Saturday, September 8, 2007

pondicherry, birth classes and other ramblings

this was supposed to be my first day teaching a once-monthly childbirth class at an upscale mama/baby store called apple of my i in indiranagar. despite my and AOMI's advertising efforts, no one registered. too bad, considering the amount of work i put into preparing for the class, and how excited i was about it. oh well. hopefully, it will happen next month.

in the meantime, i'm keeping very busy. here's what i'm working on:

1) being a doula. as you may have read in a previous post, i attended my first birth as a doula in india. it was fantastic. i've met another couple who are interested in hiring me, but first need to figure out where they're delivering and whether i will be allowed in the room. i'm keeping my fingers crossed.

2) convening the bangalore birth network (BBN). my good friend nora (an american midwife) and i have been trying to recruit folks to be a part of the BBN, which you can read about over on my other blog by clicking here. some items on our agenda are (a) addressing the widespread inhumane treatment of birthing women in both private and public hospitals (e.g., women are made to labor alone, no concept of informed consent, rampant abuse by nurses and doctors, over-use of routine interventions, etc.); (b) organizing a childbirth film festival in bangalore; and (c) ultimately opening a birth center.

3) writing articles. i've written one article for a website called chillibreeze, and they've asked me to write a feature for their expat newsletter about expats giving birth in bangalore. i've done three interviews and hope to do one more, and then i'll start writing (after a torturous patch of writer's block i'm sure).

4) copyediting. i've been working for macmillan as a freelance language editor. i edit articles written for science journals. this may sound like an easy job, but it's not. they have included such exciting topics as retroviral gene tranfers of tPA targets thrombolysis in vitro and in vivo; tamoxifen pharmacogenomics: the role of CYP2D6 as a predictor of drug response; endocannabinoid system and cardiometabolic risk; and thiazide-induced subtle renal injury not observed in states of equivalent. good times.

5) traveling. surabhi and i spent a lovely weekend in pondicherry. besides the nuisance of flies and mosquitoes, it was very relaxing. we stayed at a beautiful old colonial guest house in the french quarter, where one can walk down the streets without fear of death. we enjoyed a couple of amazing meals, one at an eco-beach resort called the dune, and the other at auroville, "an ideal township devoted to an experiment in human unity." i'd definitely like to go back and spend some time there. i've read about a home birth midwife at auroville but i can't seem to track her down.

we are starting to plan our ten day trip to kerala at the beginning of november. if anyone has any tips about where to stay (we're thinking a few days on a houseboat, a few days at the beach, and a few days in wayanad?), please e-mail us! speaking of kerala, here's an article in today's new york times about keralite migration.

finally, judy is coming! for two months! even though she won't be in bangalore for the whole time, i'll be happy knowing she's nearby.

okay, if you're reading this and you're our friend, or even if you're a stranger, please feel free to say hi in the form of a comment, will ya?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

blank noise in the news... again!

here's an article about the blank noise project and sexual harassment in india generally. we were involved with blank noise during our first few months in india. we're seriously missing you, jasmeen!

Monday, August 13, 2007


on saturday, four sixteen year old girls attempted suicide. three died, one survived. they left a note saying, among other things, "we could not live together in this world. we wish to be together at least in death." what does that sound like to you? call me crazy, but to me it sounds like they were two couples in love with each other. yet here's what the newspapers are reporting, even two days later:

What pushed the four SSLC students to enter into the suicide pact? It's still a mystery — a day after three of the four died after consuming poison and pills.

the whole article is about what a mystery it is, and how the parents can't imagine what the motivation for the suicide was, and how the sole survivor has given "ambiguous" statements. here's what a senior police officer said:

"The girls have intelligently drafted the suicide note. They have tactically hid the real reason in the letter," he said.


suicide is the single largest cause of all unnatural deaths in bangalore. it seems every day you read about a suicide in the paper -- women setting themselves on fire to escape a violent husband, adolescents hanging themselves due to humiliation at school or poor exam results, or lesbians poisoning themselves because they know that being with a woman is simply not an option. fortunately, there are groups like sangama, whose lesbit (lesbian, bisexual, transgender) arm does amazing crisis intervention.

i don't know what's up with stupid blogger, but i've been trying to fix this funky formatting for awhile but to no avail. please excuse.

finally, here's a cute pic of sunil and me, taken yesterday.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

my first birth in india!

i got a call yesterday at around 6 am from my clients, a lovely french couple who have been living in bangalore for 4 years and were pregnant with their second child. she had been having contractions since about 3 am. i figured it was early, but headed over to their house. there are so many details, but i will just say that mom did beautifully, and dad was an amazing support person. she delivered naturally, as she had hoped to. i was nervous at times, but am pretty proud of the way i trusted my intuition. she wanted to labor at home as long as possible, and when i suggested we go to the hospital, part of me was a little worried that she was earlier in the dilatation process than she was hoping to be. i was afraid she'd get discouraged. by the time we got to the hospital and the doc checked her, she was 9 centimeters, fully effaced, with a bulging bag of waters. it was truly an amazing moment!

there were some pretty disturbing and disappointing moments (newborn procedures, staff attitudes, etc.), but for the most part it was absolutely perfect and amazing and i think they are very pleased, which is, for me, what is most important.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Monday, July 9, 2007

paige's new birth blog

i know it's been awhile, and i'm not proud of that, but wanted to let you know that i have a new blog that will focus on current childbirth and parenting-related topics. there you can find my recommended reading list, links, my bio and more on the services i offer.

promise to write soon about all of our adventures in new york and new jersey, and my adventures in texas, which have mostly involved my amazingly brilliant and hilarious niece, genevieve, pictured above.

p.s. now i know what it feels like to be SERIOUSLY misquoted in the press! check out this article. NONE of these quotes is accurate, as is obvious i'm sure. it's quite pissing off...

Friday, May 25, 2007


the other night, we were having a lovely dinner with sujit when suddenly there was an incredible crackling sound. kind of like the sound of rice krispies but so loud that you think the building you're in might be crumbling. we looked out the window, and a giant gulmohar tree was snapping at its base until it fell onto cunningham road, a road that is full of traffic all the time. a road that i travel on, either by foot or by rickshaw, all the time. the sound it made coming down was just as harrowing as the sight of it. hundreds of people immediately rushed to rescue those who were trapped. amazingly, no one was killed.

i realize that i carry around a huge amount of fear. i think i did even before i moved here, but it seems like there's so much more to be scared about in cities like this one. most of my fear has revolved around traffic (being struck by a car/truck/bus), but now includes being crushed by a tree. this is an old feeling. i have imagined worse case scenarios, gruesome deaths of loved ones, etc., ever since i was a young child.

workin' on it, people!

the last few days have been that kind of day where everything goes wrong. yesterday, thanks be to god, there was something that cheered me up. i was in a rick, stopped at one of those crazy, seven-pronged intersections when i noticed two young boys leading a family of camels across the intersection. it was pretty sweet.

what i'm looking forward to:
* seeing my peeps very soon
* getting a massage with my sweetie
* more visitors in the fall
* a walk in the park with nora

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

bom bahia

bombay. now that's a cool city. we really only had two days to enjoy it, and the rest of the time was spent at shumona's grandmother-in-law's beach cottage in janjira. omg, it was lovely. living in such a loud city (and for the record, new york is not loud) really makes one appreciate the quiet spaces. and surprisingly, no crows! but the best part was spending time with shumona.

i think i saw a good chunk of bombay in two days. we were shifting apartments a lot, which meant i got to see much of the city by taxi. meeting surabhi's friends was wonderful, and she was a very thorough and patient tour guide. we walked around bandra, strolled on marine drive at night, had yummy maharashtran food (sabudhana kichidi = my new favorite dish!), shopped in colaba, and took a very nauseating ferry ride across the bay to get to janjira. here are things i loved about bombay:

* sabudhana kichidi
* the vibrant street life (reminiscent of new york city)
* the no rickshaw rule
* organization of traffic (i.e. wide, nicely-paved streets, traffic signals, etc.)
* sidewalks that people can walk on
* old, beautiful buildings
* museums, art galleries (will have to hit those next time)
* the bay/ocean
* great public transportation

and probably more that i'm not thinking of right now. i'd like to go back and soon. there's a conference happening in november called birth india (very excited about that). the woman who is organizing it is from bombay, so i'm hoping it will happen there.

i don't really understand what people mean when they say things like, "bombay is craaaaazy," or "i'm scared to go to bombay." i mean, i guess i haven't read maximum city, which might have made me nervous to go, but it actually seemed a lot more chilled out in some ways than bangalore.

every time i saw tailors, i remembered ishvar and omprakash from a fine balance. and of course many of shantaram's descriptions of bombay appeared in my memory when passing places like the thieves' market or leopold's. and every time we got in a cab, i thought of prabhakar, el pobrecito. am i too attached to fictional characters?

in other news, i had a funny experience yesterday auditioning for voiceover work. i had to read high school text book entries for an interactive curriculum which requires american accents for the audio component. i read two scripts: the inner ear and the reflex action. it was actually pretty difficult. after being told by the sound engineer that i had a "sleepy voice," i tried my hardest to channel russ leatherman (the moviefone guy), raising my eybrows and bobbing my head and talking with my hands, looking absoulutely ridiculous but hoping to sound as animated as humanly possible. blake, you would have been on the ground...

the bummer is that the studio is over an hour by rickshaw each way, and i think that alone would make me miserable. if anyone knows of other voiceover work opportunities closer to the center of town, please let me know.

click here for bombay pics.

Friday, May 4, 2007

water birth in delhi

the most exciting news i've read in the last couple of days is that the first water birth took place in a delhi hospital! this is a big deal given that the cesarean rate in most delhi hospitals is 70-80%. check out more here.

in other news, we have added new photos to our flickr account. for photos of laura's and scott's going away party (including one of surabhi twirling a four-foot sparkler), click here; for photos of our going away gathering for jasmeen, click here; and for photos of our may day on asha's farm (and an ant hill to rival all ant hills), click here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

as the work turns

ok, i am receiving requests from all corners to get more specific about my work. those who have heard bits and pieces seem intrigued, those who have no idea, are down right confused about what i am doing in Bangalore.

so in an effort to bring everyone up to speed, i thought i would update on how the work is turning. you may remember that i knew that my work would be a bit unpredictable before i arrived in india. but a month or so into my time here, the shape of work became more defined.

Needless to say, things have changed again, but taken a turn for the better, in my estimation. so let me back up and give some deets. (at the risk of sounding like i am sharing my work plan with you)

Essentially i am either supporting or coordinating efforts towards four different studies or projects. they are all addressing gender-based violence but come at the issue from very different angles. here goes:

1. I am spending most of my time right now on supporting the implementation and evaluation of an intervention with young couples in Kanakapura District. This is a peri-urban part of Bangalore, that is it is technically part of Bangalore city but is fairly rural in most ways. So this is project is a series of workshops with young married couples, that is married between 2 and 10 years. The men range in age from 25-33 and the women are between 20 and 27. These workshops cover communication, joint-decision making, sexual and reproductive health and some more complex conversations about gender and masculinity and power in the relationships.

The idea is for these workshops to catalyze a process between the husbands and wives by which conflicts can be resolved with mutual respect rather than exploding into potentially violent situations. The couples chosen are anyway low risk for violence, but building skills around communication and negotiation is revealing itself to be a really ground breaking opportunity in the lives of these participants. much of the feedback we have been getting is about how most of them had never had the opportunity to talk so frankly about sex and sexuality and struggles in their relationships. and more importantly, that these conversations are shifting the way they engage with each other at home.

2. The second project that I am working on designing and launching is with young men in the same communities that the larger health study has been focusing on. these are more urban low income neighborhoods in north Bangalore. The focus of my work so far has been 1) studying other male engagement programs in India and around the world to understand the best approaches and 2) building a strong team of male outreach workers to be able to do the community organizing necessary. So this is still in the stage of meeting and drafting job descriptions and other administrative tasks, but it is an exciting concept. The idea comes directly out of the health study which has shown in its preliminary results that the knowledge attitudes and behaviors of men greatly impact women's health-seeking behavior as well as health outcomes. So if men are reached at an early age with information and training on health, sex, sexuality and healthy relationships, then by the time they are married and negotiating life with a partner, their approach will be more gender equitable. These are the hypotheses, in a manner of speaking, so lets see what comes of them.

3. The third project is called the Bangalore Healthy Urbanization Project and is a collaboration with the Bangalore Municipal Corporation. Conceived of by the WHO Kobe Center, this city-wide project seeks to explore the social determinants of health. The some concept is also being implemented in five other cities around the world. So there are seven sites around the city that have taken up different issues and aspects of health - ours is the Robertson Road Area of Bangalore and we are focusing on addressing violence against women through creating enabling environments for early detection of violence and safe reporting.

This means working with health care providers and the local police force to build their capacity around addressing gender-based violence sensitively and effectively. The idea is to have trainings and workshops with doctors and other health center staff as well as with constables and sub-inspectors at the local police station. In addition the plan is to have community education for women and girls about the facilities available at these institution and the value in talking with health care providers about violence they might experience.

Whether this project actually happens or not is still up in the air. there are always a lot of politics when it comes to working with the government so we are still trying to sift through it all. no love lost, if it doesn't pan out. honestly.

4. Finally, phase three of the Samata Health Study is the qualitative phase where a subset of the survey respondents are asked to participate in in-depth interviews and some focus groups are held. In addition we will be beginning the formative phase of the follow up study on health care providers and their strategies and responses to gender-based violence in their patient population. My role in this has been limited so far, just helping get the study protocol prepared and submitted to the ethical review board and such. But soon the interviews with doctors will begin and I will be involved in that as well as in preparing the grant for this phase of the research.

Sometimes I freak out at all the work that has to be completed in the next 8-9 months. But then i remember all the amazing people i work with and know that this is not a solo adventure, so many thoughtful and committed individuals have invested their energy into keeping this study moving and true to ethical principles at every turn. it is really inspiring to work with and among them.

The most exciting thing for me, is that, for the first time in my career, all of the projects (with the exception of the WHO project) we are implementing or designing are evidenced based, meaning they emerge from the study that we have been conducting. These are not simply theoretical experiments. They are based on the results of rigorous research and the ideas have emerged organically from the interpretation of these results. that is a satisfying experience. i feel lucky to be part of it.

Friday, April 27, 2007


apparently since Sahana had an unmedicated birth, Meru was bright eyed and alert from his earliest hours.

....but clearly likes to doze at every opportunity!

the signature lip that Sahana sported throughout her childhood as well.
So delicious.

the post-feeding face.... oh how yummy can a little boy be?!?!

see flickr for more photos as we get them. yay!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

April 24, 2007, 3:41am PST

...Meru was born!

My sister had a little boy weighing in at 7lbs 9oz and measuring 19.25 inches long.

Word is he is adorable and perfect, but that is the unbiased opinion of his grandmother.Sahana sounds well and happy. She had a fast and furious labor, and she gave birth totally naturally!

I can't describe how i feel. i just wish I could be there to hold that little monkey.

Surabhi Doddamma

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

waiting for the monkey

i can't sit still.

waiting waiting waiting 10,000 miles away

my little sister is having a little baby even as i write this.

i had no idea i would be so anxious when the time finally came. but here i am, hardly a finger nail left on these tips. my phone has become another appendage, i can scarcely look at anything else.

just waiting for it to ring.

there she sits serenely pregnant only two short weeks ago.

soon she will be two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

nanage kannada tumba kashta

so i've been taking private kannada classes twice a week for a couple of months now, and i'm just not where i want to be. i guess it's a little slow-going. partly it's because i haven't devoted enough time to practicing between lessons. i can communicate pretty well with rickshaw wallas, but whenever anyone tries to talk to me, i'm lost. since i've been taking more buses, i've been feeling particulary frustrated by not being able to speak the local language. even in rickshaws, i'd love to be able to chat with the drivers (at least the few who aren't complete jerks). i miss living abroad and being able to converse with everyone, like in the DR for example; there's really no better way to learn about a place than to be packed in a moving vehicle with a bunch of loose-lipped strangers. here i can't even eavesdrop!

my teacher, prasad, is pretty good. despite his horrendous breath and tendency to get a little frustrated by my and patrick's lack of comprehension, he is an experienced teacher of kannada. so far, however, my best sentences are ones such as the following:

behind my house is another house. (nan mane munde innondu mane ide.)
in front of my house is a big tree. (nan mane hinde dodda mara ide.)
to the left of my house is a car. (nan mane balagade ghari ide.)
to the right of my house is a street. (nan mane edagade raste ide.)

now, when would i say these things, except to impress surabhi's parents? don't get me wrong, i love impressing surabhi's parents, but still. i think after my exam next wednesday (yikes!), i'll be able to study and practice more.

today i learned my favorite word: tombatombattu. it's the number 99. tombatombattu bottles of beer on the wall, tombatombattu bottles of beeeeeer...

Monday, April 16, 2007

fireflies '07

saturday night we went to an all-night outdoor music festival at an ashram in south bangalore called fireflies. it was a lovely night of incredible live performances under a beautiful and expansive pipal tree. definitely a highlight of our adventures so far. check out our pictures here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

summer's here!

so, as expected, goa was incredible.

isolated beaches, fresh seafood any time of the day, and of course tropical fruits galore. i was sad to learn that tender coconut water is considered an odd thing to drink out in goa. apparently since they use SO MUCH coconut in their food (and alcohol), they are loath to cut them down before the fruit fully ripens. so i saw LOADS of cracked open coconuts drying on rooftops and driveways, but not a single young tender one for the drinking!

still there were many highlights:

* rooftop yoga at 7:30 am overlooking the Arabian Sea, with palms swaying in the late dawn breeze and the sounds of morning rustling in kitchens below.

* lazy breakfasts at our favorite shack run by lovely Nepali party boys with great taste in music and seriously beautiful smiles.

* sunny afternoons spent in hammocks in the shade of beach shacks and dwarf palms sipping fresh lime soda or pineapple juice

* time to read novel after novel without interruption or guilt!!! (Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and Vernon GOD Little by DCB Pierre for those interested)

* midnight scooter ride back from Palolem wrapped around my favorite superstar scootermaster, Paigey, under a starry blanket of sky.


the return to Bangalore has been a bit jarring but this place we call home has been changing while we were away. It is fully summer here now. the kids are out of school and making rackets everywhere you go. the little green buds have burst into flowers and wide green leaves everywhere, making this garden city more green than ever.

AND we had our first summer rain! these aren't the monsoons that every one anticipates with longing and dread. these are the summer rains. short little bursts of rain that cool the earth and the air by at least 10 degrees and remind you why Bangalore is, arguably, the most beautiful city in India.

i'm feeling good
just go with the reverie, ok?
xo la queena ;)

Thursday, April 12, 2007


we've just spend five gloriously chilled out days on agonda beach in goa. what a spot. even the stray dogs are more chilled out there. it's hot as a mofo, but worth every second. because it was the end of the season, we had the two kilometer beach pretty much to ourselves.

i realized that there's absolutely no escaping crows, at least in south india. i've come to regard the crow much as i regard the rat or the pigeon in new york city. ratas con alas, if you will. worse, actually. the crow's cawking, especially at 6 am, is perhaps the most unpleasant auditory experience in existence.

on a more positive note, i had a wonderful ayurvedic oil massage by surabhi's yoga teacher in agonda, mohan. given that he was a man (quite a mousy one at that) and that he closed the door to the hut, locked it rigorously, and then instructed me to take everything off except my underwear, i was absolutely convinced he was going to do something sketchy. it's not like we were in some spa in the states where you get a sheet and five towels so as not to expose your private bits. no, we were in a hut on the beach; a table covered with plastic was the only object inside the structure. he started with my back, of course. it was going GREAT. i was marveling at how much better it was than my previous ayurvedic oil massage. following that thought was oh my god, what's going to happen when i have to turn over? i turned over when instructed, and deliberately kept my eyes tightly closed as he was oiling me up. "you will like on your breasts?" "uh... no." but thanks for asking. in the end, it was the best 400 bucks ($9.33) i've spent yet.

sadly, mohan cancelled surabhi's appointment the next morning, so she missed out on the massage experience. but she did make an excellent purchase in the nearby tourist hot spot palolem: sunglasses. not any sunglasses. she's a spitting image of ivy queen when she wears them. i call her la queena. mel, you would really appreciate.

being back in bangalore is nice, most notably because the weather is near perfect. it's green and beautiful and our flat was particulary welcoming after five days in a dingy, unbearably hot little room. after only a couple of hours, however, our pollution-induced sore throats and burning eyes were back. home sweet home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

T - 8 and counting

we are going on vacation. to goa. yeah.

the first few weeks we were here, we kept remarking on how it kind of felt like we were on holiday. we were staying in a guest house, i hadn't started full time work yet, we didn't really have any friends apart from each other. much more like a vacation. then of course we moved. as time has passed and we have slipped into a distinct rhythm in our daily life, it is becoming harder to imagine anything else.

a sure sign that a vacation is in order. if for no other reason, to keep the imagination and the adventure alive. and of course so that paige can get a tan and we can lie languidly on the beach sipping coconut water and eating freshly caught fish. i mean, who can argue with that logic?!

not that we need any excuses, but we do need a break... city life anywhere in the world - i am realizing - is exhausting. it reduces us to little creatures trying to survive despite all the harsh conditions that urbanization throws up. so time to break the monotony.

time for goa.

Friday, March 16, 2007

bhel puri

it is supposed to be a delicious treat that is spicy and sweet and salty and tart and crunchy and wet and just plain yummy all around. so i indulged.

i did the unthinkable, the unspeakable, i ate street food.

as it happens, street food in india is some of the most unhygenic cuisine in the world, in large part due to the UNavailability of clean water, but also because of lots of cost cutting practices that reduce the quality of the food preparations - as well as the flavour, i might add.

despite the gentle and affectionate warnings of numerous concerned parties, i felt like eating an 8 rupee bhel puri. and then i regretted it.... and how! at least if it was as delicious as it was supposed to be, it would have felt worthy of the outcome, but, alas...i am off bhel for a long time.

while i was sick this week, our maid, Amuda (aka Cristina - the name she chose to introduce herself as so that "foreign madame", i.e. paige, would not have trouble saying it) was also sick. same problem, low grade fever and loosies. but she lost her other job for not showing up.

so she comes to work at our place the next day crying and anxious about how to pay her debts, which clearly can't be met with just one job. we devise a plan to help her find another job. and i am plotting how i am going to let the people who fired her know that i think they are assholes. then she tells me that her little boy has had a stomach infection for most of his life - he is only 9.

all i could think about was trying to imagine feeling like i have been feeling for the past week for several years! would i get used to it too? could i?

the daily realities of the poor here are exhausting. she tells me they have no electricity, no running water, just enough provisions for one square meal a day - for the child. she and her sister run the household, as both their husbands turned out to be assholes. they are constantly harassed by men who think they are available. on top of this, they spend all their spare time looking for their mother who has disappeared. they send the boy to an english-medium school - an expensive undertaking, to be sure.

i suppose since i am not yet desensitized to the stark disparities between our lives, i can't stop thinking about her and talking about her, trying to get some perspective on how i can support her without creating unrealistic dependencies. we are leaving here after all. but she is stuck with her child in one of the most violent slums in bangalore.

so i offer her some leftovers and ask her what she eats if there isn't enough food at home.

she shrugs and says "whatever i can find...bhel puri."

Friday, March 9, 2007


so we all know that the times of india isn't exactly the country's most gramatically accurate or ethically responsible newspaper, but jeez! to its credit, the theme of international women's day was prominent throughout the front section, unlike the other papers. i was pleasantly surprised. so there i am, flipping through, trying to get past the liz hurley/arun nayar wedding story (you know, the most pressing and noteworthy news story of this week) and arrive at an article called something like "the new paradigm," about how far we women have come, etc. but the first thing i notice smack dab in the center of the article was a huge, color advertisement for jolen creme bleach, "lightens excess dark hair." convinced it was part of the article, i rapidly skimmed the text, searching for some critique of this product and/or advertisement, but to no avail.

it was really just an advertisement. right there in the middle of that article about how far women have come.

happy women's day.

p.s. stay tuned for details of last night's march through the streets of bangalore. check our flickr page for photos of the action.

p.p.s. for the record, i used jolen to bleach my mustache for years before i discovered waxing and electrolysis. but still.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


it’s been a little over a month since we moved into this flat, and we are currently experiencing our first power outage. it began last night around 1am, and at 3 in the afternoon, we’re still hoping for its return in the near future.

i know, i know, “welcome to india,” you’re thinking. i guess since it hadn’t happened at all in the last month, i was hoping that we’d be smooth sailin’. i should’ve known better; just the other day there was an article in the paper about how while bangalore has been virtually free of power outages for the last two years, that’s about to change. nice timing. and just today the times is reporting that there has been a 25% rise in power demand this year compared with the last three years, and that the demand is likely to go up further in april and may.

in other news, the biggest story here is the death of a four year old boy who was attacked by stray dogs while playing hide-and-seek. this comes on the heels of another death of an eight year old who was attacked just two months ago, and many other reports of children who have been bitten but not killed. protests ensued and now there is increasing tension between government officials who want to kill all stray dogs, and NGOs that want to protect the rights of animals. one government official is quoted today as saying, “children’s lives are more precious than dogs’. we’ll intensify the culling and killing operations without any mercy.” a little extreme, maybe? maybe not? seems to me the bigger issue is that of trash collection. many of these dogs gather to rummage through garbage that is strewn on the side of the road or in the middle of a field, like the one where little manjunath was playing.

there are over 56,000 stray dogs in bangalore!

Thursday, March 1, 2007


i've been missing brooklyn lately. not the current, cold, snowy brooklyn, but the brooklyn in summertime. i took this picture in fort greene after a LOVELY farewell meal. it wasn't summertime but it was nevertheless a fabulous night. i miss everyone a lot.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

too much work!

ok, so things are hotting up on the work front for both of us. Paige is furiously preparing her application and course design for her childbirth education certification to be completed. And I am drowning under program plans and consent forms and study designs. My project is slowly getting more and more defined and consequently more and more scary! Thinking concretely about working with the police or doctors is really frightening at times. I suppose I am conditioned to think these are impermeable institutions as well. they certainly think so! fortunately i have found a few that are open to working on the issue of gender based violence so there will surely be some progress.

aside from that i suppose the only new development is that i am homesick. i guess it takes me a while since this place is so familiar is so many ways, but just like clockwork, at about 6 weeks, i am missing home. i remember when i was growing up and we would come here for our summer vacations, about halfway through the trip i would feel inconsolable, and then before i knew it, it was time to leave, the second half always seemed to fly by. well i have way more than 6 weeks ahead of me and a hell of a lot of work, so send me love.

(hope you haven't forgotten my email!)


Saturday, February 24, 2007

WE ARE ONLINE...and we are real aunties!

I had no idea that this would bring so much joy to me in my time here. That a simple ethernet cable with the power of broadband coursing through it would lift 50% of my daily tension and frustration. but it is done, in fact i am blogging from my very own ibook. ahhh....the simple pleasures.

so much has happened since the last set of posts. we took a little trip down to Mysore, home of a spectacular palace and many mellow city sites. some new photos on flickr give you a sense of how it is. we had some good food and fun market time but mostly it was great to get out of this big city and drive through some countryside and feel a slower vibe.

perhaps the single most important thing that has happened (after our internet connection) is my cousin Suchi had twin boys last friday! scrumptious little Ritvik and Roshan came a little early but are healthy and hairy and absolutely adorable - i mean check out those pictures!. i can't wait to meet them in person. sending big love to the BIG new family in Montclair.

so now that we are online, we are setting up the webcam and welcome any and all to start chatting online with us, y'hear?

our skype names are 'freesuru' and 'soypich'
we're waiting for your call!

Friday, February 23, 2007


we still have no internet. don't get me started. really. i've turned all (okay, maybe not ALL) my rage at incompetent people who never show up into productive energy which is spent writing a course design for my lamaze certification. it's extremely tedious and time consuming, but i need to get it done in the next week and a half, apply to take the exam in april, and start studying.

i've finally met tulika, an indian woman who i'd been e-mailing with from the states. she is also in the certification process, though a little further along than i, and a hell of a lot more knowledgeable about the birthing scene here in bangalore. sadly, the cesarean rate in urban hospitals throughout india is 70-80%, and women are given very few choices during labor and childbirth. routine practices include shaving, episiotomy, continuous fetal monitoring, and allowing only one support person in the delivery room. tulika told me that if a woman wants to move around during labor, essentially she has to lock herself in the bathroom, and move around in whatever way is comfortable for her while she pretends to pee! sigh.

this just in: the internet guy has promised to come in 45 minutes. while we've received countless empty promises of internet installation (even, "i'm on my way, madam!"), i'm encouraged by the fact that someone came today to wire the flat.

our social lives have continued to be quite busy; pics of new and old friends coming soon. the kick-off this week was a super fun live performance by ozomatli. while that was hard to beat, there are many other events to look forward to: shai's experimental film festival, leslie's sangria party, family meals, and greta's visit!

Monday, February 12, 2007


so i've added a flickr badge here, which you'll see to the left, under our photo. click on that to see more pictures. it shouldn't ask you for a password. there are a few photos so far of our flat and neighborhood. if you don't view as a slideshow, you can read captions. see surabhi's recent posts below! we're hoping for internet at home tomorrow, but i'll believe it when i see it...


general strikes are pretty miraculous experiences in bustling cities like bangalore. everything just stops. everything that is, except the barking dogs and squawking crows. they never take a rest. but the rest of the state is taking a day of rest. no shops, no rickshaws, no buses, no markets, nothing. the city is quiet and almost idyllic.

the natural beauty is much more evident without all the vehicular exhaust clouding the atmosphere. paige and i ventured out to our friend's place this afternoon to borrow some wireless time (hence the sudden burst of blogging) and it felt like we live in the country...deserted roads and stray roosters pecking at the dust, distant noises of two wheelers whizzing around and giggling girls clustered on balconies.

the strike was called throughout the state of Karnataka in response to the verdict of the council settling the Cauvery water dispute. Much tension was anticipated after the annoucement of the verdict because it seems Karnataka was expected to release much more water to Tamil Nadu than they wished to. When an interim verdict was passed 16 years ago with a similar expectation, there was mob fury and rioting all over Bangalore between Kannadigas and Tamilians. so anticipating the same again, the police presence was impressive and peace reigned.

for us, this means one more day without internet access, as our guy could not get over here to get us connected. one more day without necessary repairs done. and one less day of work!

it's not all bad...

hi aunty!

this is how children in the street greet me. "hi aunty"

when did that switch happen? when did i become old enough to be an "aunty"?

growing up desi in the states, we learned to call all elders 'uncle' and 'aunty' as a show of respect as well as a performance of kinship. i mean we all knew that we weren't related, but by some twist of fate we all ended up in that harsh white world and were bonded together as a kind of family. this meant that we had all sorts of cousins who felt as important and close, if not more, than those real blood cousin-brothers and sisters over on the subcontinent. but we weren't actually related...a strange fact that is hard to explain to people who have not had an immigrant experience in their known history.

here people grow up surrounded by people just like them. generations of people. you watch people around you grow and change and become uncles and aunties and know that one day you too will be one. not in the real biological way necessarily, but in that generic, respectful, we belong to one another kind of way.

so when i share my horror at being referred to as aunty with a few friends here, they shrug...well of course you are an aunty to a 10 year old, what else would you be? you are 3 times her age!

i guess i thought those categories were fixed. i didn't know i could grow into being an aunty. with so few desis around in those early years, i suppose i didn't realize that there were others growing to take my place as the kid and i would have to grow up. that eventually i would look as busy and tired and purposeful as an aunty.

but if i think about it, i am all of those things. and more. i worry about the details, i try to feed people more than they want, i love matchmaking....oh this is getting too scary. there's no hope...i might as well enjoy it!

(send biodatas! there are matches to be made!)

with love,
suru aunty

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

send earplugs and wi fi...

so the move is over and things are slowly falling into place, but there is a lot to get used to. the noise for one. between the three different calls to prayer resounding thoroughout our neighborhood and the street vendors calling out their wares and the constant sounds of crows and dogs, we are lucky if we get 6 hours of deep sleep...but hear-os to the rescue! so glad that paige brought a large supply of them, i never knew that earplugs would be so important to me.

we are also stuck in the void of internetlessness. it is such a lifeline...i think we sometimes forget how connected it makes us feel. fortunately i have regular access at work, but i am rarely ever at a desk so it doesn't feel like much. hopefully it will be sorted out soon at home. we are having trouble figuring out if someone is trying to get a bribe out of us or if there is a genuine problem. but Paige has been struggling valiantly to make it happen and i am sure she will succeed.

everything feels like a struggle here in the beginning. just figuring out where to get basic household things, how much to pay for things, the shortest route to get somewhere. it all gets so exhausting. and all this compounded by strikes and other random disturbances. no wonder everything takes longer here!

despite it all, we were able to have a fun little housewarming party last friday night pulling together our assortment of friends, some of my old peeps and some of paige's new internet finds and a few unknown friends of friends, creating a warm and fun atmosphere. with paige's perfectly timed party mix and lots of food and alcohol and of course a surprise birthday cake, it was definitely a good time. photos to follow, paige is the technophile in the family...

ok... back to work!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

sweet home

so its moving day. not without the general headache of getting ANYTHING done in this place, but it is happening. the new place, officially called "Sweet Home", still needs a bit of work but the landlord assures us it will be done by "tomorrow".

ahhh tomorrow...

So we are leaving the guest house and this means we are leaving wireless internet access behind for a while. let's hope we can get it up and running soon!

so the address is:

1 Benson Road
Sweet Home, Flat 3A,
Benson Town, Bangalore
India 560046

Let real life begin!


check us out in our aforementioned action against eve-teasing! we drew quite a crowd once again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


there are many things here that are familiar to me, and would be familiar to anyone who's lived consciously in a developing country: those whiffs of burning trash, raw sewage, frying food, body odor; public displays of belching, nose picking, blowing snot on the sidewalk; chaotic traffic, total lack of right of way, and a dearth of sidewalks and pedestrian signals; families of four or five on a single motorcylce or scooter; waking up to neighbors hacking up a lung; abysmal music in bars and clubs, invariably including "what's going on" by four non blondes and "one more time" by daft punk; the laid back approach to time and punctuality; neglected dogs, often traveling in packs; the glaring discrepancy between rich and poor, light and dark skin; etc.

things i've never seen before: so many young children who are homeless and made to beg; decorated cows hanging out in the middle of the street or lying on the side of the road (it's a criminal offense to hit and kill a cow); and the extent to which public spaces are male-dominated.

today i decided to treat myself to an ayurvedic oil massage in honor of my birthday. (special shout out to my mom who did the hardest work that day 32 years ago!) it was quite an experience. i wouldn't describe it has relaxing per se, since i had to sustain some uncomfortable positions while oiled up and sliding around on a plastic massage table. two women worked on me, one on each side, both sets of hands vigorously rubbing the length of my body, perfectly in synch, and leaving not one millimeter untouched. we're talkin' boobs, butt crack, they really went for it man! the day ended with my dear surabhi taking me to a very yummy and fancy italian restaurant.

lastly, greta bought her ticket today. yipeeee!

Monday, January 29, 2007

the shape of work

so, i recently realized, that i came here to work. like i have a job. that i have to go to most days of the week. even sundays sometimes.

but to be fair, people have a very humane approach to the work day in india, as in many other places in the world, i am sure. we work long days but there are leisurely lunches and regular breaks for tea and coffee. lots of public holidays and very flexible timings. and for me, the work is exciting. already i feel engaged in community level processes in a tangible way. people have been really eager to integrate me into activities and introduce me to their realities.

basically i am supporting one study that is on going on improving couple communication as a strategy for reducing gender based violence in the home. the basic intervention is a series of training modules focused on participants thinking about gender roles, masculinity, femininity, and questioning them. thinking critically about relationships and the kinds of connections they want to foster in their own lives. this work is happening with an NGO called SAKTI way on the outskirts of south bangalore in an area called Kanakapura.

the other project that i am going to be initiating during my time here, is also on gender based violence but more focused on community-based responses to the problem. so it entails working with community members, police, local women's groups and other organizations to begin mapping out the resources available in the area and exploring what kinds of structural responses might be effective in improving women's health adn safety. this project will be in collaboration with the primary health clinics in the Robertson road area, which is more in the heart of the city.

highlight so far i think was going to meet the police commissioner of bangalore with my boss yesterday. what a trip man, right out of bollywood. armed guards outside. big desk, phone ringing off the hook, random men sitting in chairs along one wall of the office. despite all this macho framing, he was actually really receptive to the idea and believes that it is an important issue to address....let's see where that goes.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

found a flat!

here is a picture of a street in our new neighborhood, called benson town. we decided to go for the big, fully furnished, quiet flat in a beautiful building. there is plenty of room for visitors! the neighborhood is very mixed hindu/muslim/christian, and quite posh, though it seems we got a great deal. we had tea with our new landlord last night and he and his wife are incredibly sweet and accomodating. we move in on the 31st. what a relief!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

oh brother

in case you were wondering, the biggest news in india since we arrived has been the bollywood star shilpa shetty's misfortunes on the british reality show big brother. even hindu-muslim tensions and subsequent riots in bangalore didn't overshadow it. ?!?!?

meanwhile, bangalore is a beautiful, beautiful city. aside from the traffic and heavy pollution, it is a quite pleasant and interesting place to be. a german woman i met last night, upon hearing that it was my first time to india, said, "oh, well this is india 'light'." that and everything else a friend from bombay was saying made me a little nervous and strangely compelled to visit other big indian cities. compelled because i've already witnessed some pretty extreme acts of abuse (even surabhi concurred) in the first week of being here. on day 3, while in a rickshaw stopped at a red light, we noticed a man on a two-wheeler pull up to the curb next to us. even though the light was red, and he couldn't get much further, he tried to get past a very young crippled girl (4 or 5 years old) who was sitting on the curb. he spat on her and yelled for her to move out of the way. she had nowhere to go, as she was backed up to the railing and was physically unable to walk. he started threatening to run over her and began ramming the front wheel of his scooter into her legs. at this point i started sobbing uncontrollably, and surabhi yelled at him in kannada to leave her alone. the rick driver chimed in, too, saying, "look what you've done," and pointed to me. to draw attention to me instead of to the terrified child speaks not only to my privilege as a foreigner and a person with money (i.e., not a beggar), but also to the enormous amount of oppressive and insidious conditioning it takes for us as people to be able to treat fellow people (not to mention children) like rats.


i'm trying desperately to figure out how to upload video to youtube and then link to it on the blog. have some snippets which i'd like to share. sunila, help?

Monday, January 22, 2007

riots and resistance!

well india is certainly showing its colors, and promptly. day 5 and there are riots in bangalore. no, no, not because we came. because some hindu fundy fest got out of control ostensibly in reaction to another violent rally on friday where muslim groups were condeming the hanging of saddam. surprise surprise. we were unharmed, as we were nowhere near the violence, but saw the debris on our way home. scary indeed. hopefully the first and last such experience.

but the better part of the day was our evening participating in a piece of public art/action. We joined a group of feminists challenging the sexist norm of "eve-teasing" where idle men hang around on busy streets and watch women without any self-consciousness - and trust me it happens in epidemic proportions. so this project is called BLANK NOISE and in this particular campaign, Action Heroes, women take up the space usually occupied by men along the railings of Brigade Road - a very commercial area in Bangalore that is evidently ideal for gazing at the ladies (especially in jeanspants) and harrassing the hell out of them with no repercussions.

So in this action, the heroes hand out letters that chronicle familiar experiences of sexual harassment to other women passing by and just casually take over the space. when the heroes identify one or more really disgusting or irritating eve-teasers, they quietly approach and surround him/them. the result is brilliant, ranging from a panicky expression and immediate escape to fearful anxious laughter to typical aggressive reactions. The art of this action is in the performance of dominance over these leering, jeering, lecherous men and in the synchronized action that the group takes in challenging them - all the while silent. meanwhile, the male allies with us were also following up with other men to share information. it was a powerful experience and an amazing group of women and men to share the process with.

other than that we have been eating well - spent a lot of time with my family in south bangalore this weekend - and it looks like we have finally kicked the jetlag. And tomorrow is my first day of work! wish me luck!

Thursday, January 18, 2007


As we were preparing to leave and gathering information from friends and family, one of the most common reflections people had about their experiences in Bangalore was about the traffic. I brushed off these warnings as just exaggeration.

well, i was wrong. yep, you heard me right...i concede. this is one of the most congested and polluted places i have been. and there doesn't seem to be any plans for making it better. the increase in indivdual wealth is so evident in this city, but the chanelling of those resources to improving the collective good seems absolutely remote from the minds of the nouveau riche.

but that said, the city is alive as ever, bustling with activity and an odd congruity of modernity and tradition. the northern part of the city where we are looking for flats to live in, is a loud diverse mix of people from all over India, where the native language of kannada is rarely heard. it is also where ex-pats tend to land as this area was once the heart of the British settlement during the colonial period and is organized much like a european city. the southern part of bangalore where most of my beloved family lives is the home of more traditional Kannada, Hindu communtities. These neighborhoods are more like strings of well developed villages and towns that have merged together boasting some of the oldest buildings and homes in the city.

it is a vibrant city of young people and i think will prove to be a perfect place for us to get comfortable. We are meeting a broker to look at flats today and hopefully we can move out of this service apartment by the end of the month. Paige is, of course, being her superstar self and easing herself into the chaos that india invariably throws at you. i can tell. it is going to be a great year.

we made it

after an amazingly wonderful and teary send-off with friends and family who caravaned to JFK, we had a relatively easy journey to bangalore. aside from not sleeping, all went well and we were even picked up at the airport at 5 am. it is really good to be here. the weather is gorgeous, and i can see that exciting things lie ahead. we were able to explore some of the city, which seemed big to me, but i realize it was a very small part of bangalore that i saw. we traveled by auto-rickshaw, which, as expected, was a bit unnerving. surabhi has been amazing, rocking her kannada and hindi, and making it all happen. i look forward to the day when i'm able to tell the driver in hindi or kannada where i'm heading. the pollution has been hard on the sinuses, and i can't help but wonder what the prevalence of asthma is here. i'm having a lot of feelings and reactions to the begging and extreme poverty (of which i've seen very little relative to what exists here), but i'm not yet able to articulate them. know that i'm thinking about it a lot and will try to include my reflections in upcoming entries.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

there's no place like home

so, i officially moved out of brooklyn 1 week ago and it is still taking its time to sink in. i am leaving in 10 days. been staying with the rentals and it is remarkably cozy. i guess things can change.

So first things first, why am i going to India? A question often asked and too infrequently answered. here's the story. one lady researcher stumbled upon my biodata through a colleague and old friend of paige's and she felt it was a match made in heaven, you know how these things go, she read our charts and insisted that I be interviewed. lucky girl i was, i tell you, underqualified and all...or i did something right, somewhere along the way.

Hence, i am suddenly employed by the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, Deparment of Obstetrics and Gynecology in an exciting little outfit called the Women's Global Health Imperative. the name is good, no? lends a sort of urgency to the matter.

Most of the research that WGHI undertakes, whether clinical or social science, explores the relationship between poverty and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. I am supposed to work on a project related to gender-based violence, but let's see what happens once i get there, these things are often unpredictable.

In the meantime i am struggling to keep track of international shipping costs and finding affordable service apartments and NRI Accounts and consolidating phone numbers and email addresses into a practical arrangement...who knew relocating would be so complicated? Oh wait, I did.

Thank god for daily doses of amma's exquisite food in these hectic days.

T-10 and counting!


p.s. don't forget to come to Beat Bazaar and party with me next Friday, Jan 12!