all in the family

Some of you asked about the family project that was driving me to distraction in November and  December, and I kind of dropped the ball in responding. I’m now ready to reveal this unwieldy project for whatever it’s worth. It’s a four-generation “tree” of family members of the Indian side of our family. Beginning in the middle, there’s Hubby’s father and mother (with a larger photo just above), then fanning out on both sides with each of his siblings, and their children and grandchildren, all surrounded by candid photographs from each family. Thumb sized pictures are also shown in each box, along with the birth-marriage-death dates, so that future generations can easily pair the person with the name. My daughters have commented on how many facial characteristics–head shape, lips, etc.,  they share with some of their aunts, uncles and cousins in India. It was done using Microsoft Word 2010 in a word document with all the complications encountered in producing a poster sized document on a much-smaller scaled computer monitor, drawing the text boxes within text boxes with Word’s “paint” program in the manner of “eyeballing to make everything fit. Miraculously, everything did!

Some of you may remember our planned 2010 Indian family reunion in Goa where we planned a weekend to reacquaint our daughters and their families with Hubby’s side of the family. Unfortunately, my health concerns precluded my participation, but we urged the family to proceed without us. Our daughters, not having been to India in about 25 years, asked their father for a crash course of sorts–who was married to whom, who were their children, their father or mother and so on. That may have been when the initial seed was sown to develop a patriarchal family tree for everyone’s benefit. This idea was further reinforced when we had most of Hubby’s relatives  based in the US visit us during the summer. Family genealogies were typically passed along orally, or hand-written by elders to be passed down, so somebody knew some family specifics, but despite the effort so much family history seems to get lost. I, for one, am a strong believer is preserving and strengthening family links. So for my own sake and that of our small family, I decided to undertake the task of setting down–as officially as possible within my own limitations–a family register for the current four generations, to coexist with that of my own family origins. With the current trend of geologically scattering of families, for ours it would be a beginning family connection all-around.

This undertaking was by no means a simple task. As in the case of hubby’s family in South India, complications such as there being no family surname such as Smiths or Browns as we have in the West. Instead, a child with a given name such as Fred will often be identified as Fred, son of so and so. In addition, the families often use  “clan” names which may indicate the ancestral village of their origin and the sub caste the family belongs to, although not routinely used as an official or daily use name. To complicate the matter further, the child “naming” ceremony occurs about 10 days after the birth of the child and so the hospital birth records do not identify the child with any name except as son or daughter of the father so and so. Thus, use of birth records to construct a family tree is out of the question.   The way the children in the Tamil Brahmin families are named also adds another layer of confusion. Depending on the sex of the child the given name  may be a god’s name, or a deceased grandfather or grandmother’s name.  Very often the grandparents and other close relatives weigh in on the names and the parents try to accommodate everyone’s wishes.  So, the children end up with official name (for school records) and several other names given by the relatives.  Most of the time, as in this country, the long names are shortened with nicknames for daily use.  That explains why so many of Hubby’s family are known by different names within the family. I think you can see how, for anyone born in the West, it makes for much confusion about who’s who in the family. The project was duly completed and mailed to each family a week or more before Christmas.

I believe it quite appropriate to end this posting with the same quote by Rabindranath Tagore printed on the poster itself (just above the bottom picture border). “The tapestry of life’s story is woven with the threads of life’s ties, ever joining and breaking.” Ever joining indeed! As with these kinds of charts, ours has already become obsolete, but in a good way. One of Hubby’s nephew’s wife in India just gave birth to their second daughter few days ago. As per the custom, we are waiting to learn her name.

second class train from goa to cochin makes you loco

India has some of the lowest train fares in the world, and that’s good. It’s also good that India makes travel affordable to all classes of its people. In the U.S., if you’re poor you’re basically out of luck if Grandma lives on the other side of the country–you probably won’t see her very often.

When we boarded the train in Madgaon Station for Kochi (old Cochin), I was still suffering the effects of the Shingles that almost caused us to cancel our travel two weeks before arriving in Delhi; I had been successful at cutting back from three to two, then finally one pain pill a day until I could pitch them altogether. If only I hadn’t fallen into that drainage ditch in Goa! As it happens, once I boarded the train I didn’t have to move much for the next 16 to 17 hours. Good thing, too. There wasn’t much room to move about as you’ll see. So I just popped another Ibuprofen to my pill regimen and went limping onward.

In the station we saw numerous children begging from locals and tourists. We wondered if their parents knew their children were out begging early in the morning rather than being on their way to, or in, school. After several  conversations with others regarding them, we learned that it’s not at all uncommon that whole families live in public areas like train station platforms. Not only do they know their children are out begging, they probably sent them. Even though an education is provided by the government free to all children, begging has become a way of life for many of them. Without understanding the need for formal education, there’s little hope these children will be able to break the cycle. We saw this throughout much of our journey. The sleeping figures huddled along the platform here (below) are all women who could be anybody–passengers, workers or beggars.

Trains accommodate commuters as well as tourists. These are probably some of our fellow passengers waiting patiently on the platform waiting area. They may be on their way to work in the next town or village, or they may be off on holiday or a pilgrimage to an ancient temple further south.

The five of us–Raj and his wife Vasanthi, Hubby and myself, and our friend ML–left the Casa de Goa before daybreak with breakfast sandwiches of egg omelets the kitchen staff had wrapped in paper napkins. We wouldn’t get to our hotel in Kochi until very late, around 10:30 that evening, and we’d be fed on the train. I was looking forward to “lovely views of the sea and mountains” as our train traveled through picturesque Western Ghats.

Ah, I’m glad I enjoyed my imagined train journey so much . . . because I would soon learn that some train journeys can be fun, but some may possibly make you loco, especially if you’re already half-crippled. We were fed twice or thrice, can’t remember since all the meals looked and tasted the same (think airline food steerage class). Here’s Hubby looking very cozy as he tries to catch a few z’s. Was it just me in my half-dead state, or did that berth resemble a coffin from that angle? Using the other berth as a seat, ML and I sat opposite him reading. Raj and Vasanthi are sitting together–just outside our cubicle–in Raj’s side-berth just south of the couple across from us. The toilets are located at the end of each car–two, one western style and one Indian style–at each. There’s little ventilation in there, and we learned the hard way that they can get very stinky at times.

Now it’s my turn to lie down. That’s my feet wrapped in a light cotton blanket (bottom left)  provided by rail service. The dark blue curtain just beyond my toes is drawn for privacy from the two side berths across from us occupied by a previously boarded older couple. The striped bedding at the bottom of the lighter blue curtain peeking through the slit gives a glimpse of the walking aisle–which everyone in the the car must walk down to get to the toilets at either end. Every now and then I’d get that feeling you get when someone’s looking at you. When I’d glance up, I would see the lighter blue curtain pulled aside a tiny bit and caught the woman staring at me. Immediately she’d whip the curtain closed. Since ML and I were the only Americans in our car, we had to behave. The impression we made would no doubt color how this couple and anyone else on the train would view all Americans.

Looking out the windows at what we were sure had to be amazing views of the sea and mountains didn’t help after all. Not only was our window covered with bars, the dust covering was much too thick to see through. Because she’s an experienced traveler, ML had brought along several mystery novels, and cross-word puzzle books. When we tired of reading the books and kindle we’d brought, she’d tear out pages from her puzzle books to share. Seventeen hours (supposed to be 15, but there were several delays) in so small a space is a long-g-g-g-g-g time!

In our early morning wanderings at the train station back at Madgaon Station, I took this picture because ML and I were so amused by the sign’s mysterious wording. We wondered who  these loco pilots and guards were. What did loco pilots and guards look like? The men through the glass door looked sane enough.

Now, as I look back, the experience behind me, I wonder if I might have the explanation we were looking for all along. Maybe those loco pilots and guards were railway personnel–engineers and security?–who’ve simply traveled one time too many on their own second class sleeper trains.

It was almost midnight (as near as I remember) when we finally arrived at our hotel in Kochi. Sometime during the long hours on the train, Raj and Vasanthi got together with Hubby and talked. It turned out they’d all agreed it might be a good idea to cancel the three similar train journeys we’d already booked for the rest of our visit in favor of air travel when possible as this was not the best of train journeys for both the Americans and the Indians. I was so relieved I picked up the ‘phone in our room as soon as we checked in, and dialed all-night room service. I ordered a huge fudge cake smothered in chocolate syrup and whipped cream with a maraschino cherry on top which was delivered in 10 minutes. In spite of lingering shingles pain plus the added burden of a humongous leg injury, I indulged in my favorite chocolate medical remedy and went to bed. Life was still good.

I hope I haven’t bored you with our less than colorful train journey. I promise, due to my protective Indian family, there won’t be any more trains on this journey.






churches, temples, and brain-drain in goa

I thought I was all ready to move on to the railway station in Madgaon to move on to Kochi by overnight train, but then I had a reminder in the form of a comment that I hadn’t mentioned the old churches in Goa yet. Upon reviewing my photo-file, I decided it was worth a slight backtrack to include some of those, since churches are so prominent in Goa. From searches online I counted nineteen in north Goa alone, and another three in the south. There may very well be more, and though it seemed at times that we visited them all, it would have been impossible with the four days we spent there.

Goa’s churches are a prominent, remaining heritage of Portuguese colonization. Like Columbus, Portuguese explorers were looking for spices, but they kept an eye out as well for possible easy converts to  Christianity. They began seizing and occupying former Hindu temples, replacing them with churches. In a familiar story of early conquest and colonization and religious conversion, the Portuguese more or less forced Christianity on the people of Goa until the official end of the Goan Inquisition in 1812. Church building became one of the major occupations of the early Portuguese settlers.

I covered the Basilica of Bom Jesus (below) in a previous post (June 24, 2010) in west meets east in picture perfect goa monsoon. If you missed it you can use one of these links. It’s the church that contains the body of St. Francis Xavier, a member of the Society of Jesus who came to India with the Portuguese to spread Christianity in India. He is often credited for preaching the teachings of Jesus and baptizing various people in Goa. This is the front entrance to the Basilica.

Formerly on this spot (below) stood a gate through which it is believed that Alfonso de Albuquerque entered the old city of Goa in 1510. The walkway is full on both sides of lush tropical trees and impressive buildings like this, the Chapel of St. Catherine.


The sun had begun beating down on us by the time we headed off to see the Mangeshi Temple on our itinerary. I noticed our friend ML had remembered to pack her sunhat for India. I, alas, had not. As it was getting hotter and hotter as the rose to midday position high over, I decided it was time to buy a hat–even though I had several great sunhats back home.

This is the hat I found in a market as we walked to the temple (missing from both my memory and photo-file). I usually have a lot of trouble choosing hats, and being in a hurry Hubby picked up and held out a couple for me to consider. I declined them all–as yuk! horrible color, horrible shape,  too masculine, too something or other! The lady hat vendor who had been watching me proffered her choice. Voila! It was the perfect hat that I never knew I wanted until she produced it. (I should hire her to be my personal shopper.) 90 rupees she announced. Hubby, to show how American he’s become when it comes to buying things, simply produced the money and paid for it–probably relieved at my quick choice. Our shopping adviser for this leg of our trip, my brother-in-law’s wife Vasanthi, rushed to protest too much! By then it was too late, and I was wearing a hat that cost about two U.S. dollars. Seems we should have been able to buy it for about half that.

Turns out I love that hat. It was made in China (et tu, India?) but whatever it’s made of (hopefully nothing producing carcinogens), it takes all kinds of abuse, can be rolled up to pack in a suitcase, and the brim can be bent to whatever direction it needs to protect from the sun. My sun-protection may have come a tad late, however, because it’s after the sunhat purchase that my memory associated with the missing temple begins to fade. I distinctly remember the walk to the temple, however, and even located the photographic evidence:

From here I continue the tale with confidence only because of the backup of Hubby’s and his brother’s memories, and therein lies another tale. Yesterday I must have argued with Hubby for half an hour at least! No, we never went in that temple! I would have remembered a beautiful building like that! Out of all the thousands of pictures I took, how could I possibly have failed to photograph this one? Even if we weren’t allowed photographing inside, I wouldn’t have missed an outside shot! How could I? Never!

It’s not that I hate to be wrong, I just hate it when Hubby is so often right! Before I would concede, I shot off an email to Raj and Vasanthi in India. This morning their reply was in our email. It goes:  “Yes, we did visit the temple. We all walked some distance from the parking lot in 11 o’clock heat to reach the temple. All of us washed our feet before entering the main part.” Clearly, with so much detail, I finally had to admit–Hubby was right–again! Mea culpa.

I now ask you, how in heaven’s name could I forget visiting this beautiful temple!? Mangeshi is an incarnation of the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva (the destroyer). The picture is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons Attribution. If I ever get there again, I’ll take my own!

I admit that seeing a succession of ancient (to me) temples and churches does present a challenge in trying to distinguish one from another with the passage of time. Thank goodness I have the memories of my fellow travelers to fall back on. Now I’m pulling the plug to rest my brain lest it experience a similar incidence. And I’ll get ready to review the next phase of our journey–yes, the second class train–to Cochin (or Kochi).



nights “down and out” in goa

In Florida, where I grew up, you can drive all the way south to Key West from about Savannah, Georgia on U.S. Highway A1A along the coastline. All the while the ocean will nearly always be within sight on your left. I guess I expected Goa to look something like that, but it wasn’t. On the long ride from the airport in Panaji, we’d get only occasional glimpses of water in the distance, but nothing really stupendous jumped out at me until we crossed this long bridge. The sight of oceans and marinas always stirs my blood a little, probably because of the Florida connection. (This begins the “out” portion to which the title refers. The “down” part will come a little later.)

During our stay we arranged to take a Sunset Cruise that featured a Goan dance troupe performing a program, for our cultural entertainment, of folk and religious dances with traditional dress. One of the dances was the Portuguese peasant dance, unsurprisingly spanish-influenced. It was still daylight when we got on the boat for departure, so there was a chance for a little sightseeing before the sun went down. If memory serves, the palatial tile-topped building in the skyline in the photo below is the Baga Marina Beach Resort Hotel. There’s also a church and a dome-topped orange temple, and you can see what appears to be homes along the edge of the river.

Then the sun begins to take on the appearance of a giant over-easy egg yolk as it begins its dip from a pink colored sky into the golden sun-rays splattered on the water. Then we hear the music and the dancers make their appearance. At its conclusion, the D.J. begins a selection of music, and invites the audience to come down to dance. The stage is quite small, so he designates couples only, ladies only, etc. so everybody has an equal chance to enjoy themselves. The rest of us watch and laugh and drink. The best part comes near the end when the men are invited to come on down! to dance Bollywood style. Yay! ML commented that she had never seen so many men dancing together and alone, except maybe on a trip to Greece many years ago, or maybe a gay dance bar. I reckon it all depends on how many drinks you’ve consumed that makes the difference, but it’s a sight none of us will ever forget. (Sorry the photo is so dark, but it is night as I said.)

We passed several boats that were mostly dark like the one we were on. This boat seemed to be a more glamorous casino-type cruise with lights flashing, but whenever we passed by I didn’t see many people about. Maybe the liquor on the lighted boat was better and everybody had already passed out on the lower decks. Or maybe the big spenders were just being tight that evening.

I wanted to show you this picture, (below) because it illustrates what I’ve said several times how you should always walk in India with your eyes cast downward to where you’re walking. Imagine if you were walking down this street on a dark night, maybe to drink a few bottles of Kingfisher (beer) at Molly Malone’s. And let’s say that there are parked cars,  and other cars passing you on your left, and you decide to move to your right to avoid the traffic. One minute you’re on solid land, the next minute you’re stepping into an abyss. An accident just waiting to happen.

That’s exactly what I did trying to avoid the traffic and ended up in the drainage ditch in the picture below. It doesn’t look very deep, but I’m sure it’s about 24 inches deep at least. What a thing to happen not even half way into our trip. I had a cut in my hand, dug some glass out in the bathroom of the restaurant we were going to, and a purple/black bruise from my hip to my knee. It only faded completely a couple of weeks after I returned home. There’s no such thing as a hazard warning for pedestrians. But this accident was one that waited for me!

By the way, the dogs usually lie in the streets. I asked Hubby why they lie in the streets where, by the looks of all those limping around on three legs, they’re being run over or killed. Because they don’t belong to anyone, he said, they’re fed or get their food from whatever they can find around town and on the beaches. Sometimes families will take turns feeding them, but if they go into a yard to rest they’re shushed away by the property owner. So if they’re not on the beaches, they’re in town. The only place they can rest is on the street. There are hundreds of these pye dogs, which literally means “ownerless half-wild Asian dog,” around. They’re very docile, but I try very hard not to look at them because they seem so sad. I think how horrible it would be to go through life with no one to care for and love you, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. If ML had not taken this picture, I would not have had the only photo  to remember my infamous fall at Goa. That and the bruise deep inside my thigh that I still feel two month later.

The next post will feature a close-up look at the Madagoan Railway Station and the train that takes us southward to Kochi. Hope you’ll join me.

arrival in (almost paradise) goa

After Anna and Babloo saw us off at the airport in Delhi, we arrived in Goa early the afternoon of January 21. Goa is renowned for its beautiful beaches and places of worship. In somewhat of a minor miracle, Hubby’s brother and his wife, Raj and Vasanthi, showed up to welcome us at the airport. They joined us in Goa and continued on with us to cruise the backwaters of Kerala and points further south.

Goa is located on India’s western coast along the Arabian Sea, roughly south of Mumbai (Bombay) and just northward of Bangalore. I’ve seen some of the most incredible sunsets imaginable along the Arabian Sea. (You’ll see some examples in some of the next few posts.)  The Portuguese occupied and colonized the territory for about 450 years, until its annexation by India in 1961. It was here that I felt the distinct blend of the two dominant religions–Hinduism (65%) and Christianity (30%) with Islam (3%) and Sikhs and others at 2% making up the rest. It was clear from the number of Catholic churches we visited the next day that this part of Goa was heavily Christian.

This is our handsome driver during our stay in Goa. Joseph’s good looks and personal demeanor soon began to epitomize for me the easy going, relaxed nature of the Goan people with whom I came in contact. (Click on his picture to enlarge it, though I’m very sorry you won’t be able to see his beautiful hazel eyes!) Joseph loaded us all into a large enough van to accommodate all five of us plus all our luggage.

Unlike other areas of India I’ve visited over the years, everyone here in Goa, including hordes of foreigners from all over, seems free to follow the lifestyle they wish, including religious views and dress codes (You’ll understand that line later as you see some of the beach pictures.)

Here’s the front of our hotel, the Casa de Goa, which turned out to be about a block away from the Calangute Beach–and only about a 45 minute scenic ride from the airport in the capital city of Panaji. Across the street, on the beach side, the hotel grounds continued with a large number of cottages for rent. While we were being checked in, we were served a refreshing drink made with pineapple–if memory serves–that put me in mind of Hawaii. After four cool days in Delhi, we were beginning to feel as though we were on holiday in a setting almost like my imagined paradise.

Here’s a nice touch I was to discover in most if not all the hotels we stayed in all over India. Cheerful welcoming flower arrangements were located at the entryway, and changed nearly every day, a very nice touch!

It also felt very much like a Florida hotel in both color scheme and open design. Even indoors there, you felt as if you were part of the outdoors. Here, in front of a painted tile display by a Goan born artist, Mario de Miranda, Hubby takes an Ibuprofen break on the lobby bench after check in. Although the ride wasn’t terribly long by Indian standards, the roads are sometimes (nearly always) very bumpy so it’s good to have plenty of pain relievers on hand.

Our rooms overlooked the hotel swimming pool where a buffet dinner and cocktails were served poolside each evening. On the rooftop to left are solar panels that ML learned the hard way (a late night shower) to heat water. As long as you showered earlier rather than later, the solar power worked very well. When and if you complained at the front desk about the lack of hot water they would look at you like something was wrong with you.

Because we don’t want to miss the quickly approaching sunset, we’ll go to the first of our Goan beach destinations now. Calangute Beach is supposed to be the busiest beach in Goa, reputedly a favorite of the hippies during the 1970s and 1980s. Across the street from our hotel along this dirt lane, we could walk to the beach.

Growing up in Florida as I did, near enough to the white sands of Daytona Beach on the Atlantic Ocean to go there often as a teenager, the beach itself was not quite as impressive as I had thought. It became apparent pretty quickly, however, that there’s plenty to do there . . . if you have the stamina, are young enough, or just plain foolish enough. For so late in the day, there were still huge numbers of visitors about indulging in various water sports activities or like us, just enjoying the ambiance.

Water skiing and para-sailing,such as you see in the picture below, begins in the afternoon when the wind begins to blow and continue well into the sunset.

While there are fishing boats about–Calangute is known as a fishing village after all–you could decide to fish the solitary way–like this man is doing.

Or you can just be lazy and lay claim to a wooden beach bed-bench with a thatched roof over your head . . .

Or you could roll up your pants legs and stroll along the beach . . . like we decided to do . . . . I really like this picture of the four of us–myself, ML, Vasanti & Raj–with our shadows reflecting in the water . . .

while we we watched for the perfect moment to snap a picture of the sunset just as the sun dips into the sea . . .

and click!

We’ll continue next time with more of several Goan beaches as well as some of its other outrageous visitors.