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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

And of course, a wedding.

By the end of our first week, we have visited or been visited by each of the five Gummadi siblings who are from the 'states and/or live in town.  A sixth will arrive from the states next week. There's lots of chattering and a chance to visit with one of our nieces and her fiancee' from the UK, here for the holidays. But the focus soon turns toward the upcoming marriage of (another one of) our niece(s.) 'The girl,' as the bride is referred to here in India, lives in the U.S. but wants to have a 'traditional' wedding.  The wedding plans are set in motion as we settle into our respective apartments, five of the families in this same building.

Our housekeeping has been set in motion, faithful Raghava and Pushpa at the ready, full and half time, respectively.  It's deceptively easy to slip into a routine involving a second party for things we usually do for ourselves in the 'states: meal prep and cooking, serving tea frequently throughout the day and when a visitor  drops in (which also takes place frequently), garbage and recycling, cleaning, laundry, transportation, and errands we don't even have to do at home, like taking washed and line-dried clothes to the ironing man, heating and filling a bucket of water for a bath, swabbing the floor daily with a disinfectant..

Sounds luxurious, right?  But it's common enough in middle class and/or joint families in India. Life can be hectic here too, but seems less so when there are at least pockets of leisure, with common tasks out of the way. More time is available for other things we have to do; we are able to make two village visits, the first week. (More in another blog post.)

The planning and preparation for our niece's wedding are  more elaborate and thoroughly vetted than you might imagine.  The stairs and elevator are busy as family members interact among the three apartments where most of the family are staying this year. (Two of them are rented out, so two of the families double up with the others.. (Please shut the door' has toned down a bit since last year, but the mysterious voice inside the elevator still exhorts us, day and night, to make the elevator available to other  users.) The five Gummadi uncles are in charge of the basic arrangements for the wedding, and they take to it with enthusiasm, conferring and shopping and vetting vendors and preferred procedures morning, noon and night.  Shopping is especially good because this is the season of a major winter festival (more of that in the next blog); stores are brimming with fresh stock and potential sales.

So what goes into this Indian wedding? The bride's and the groom's families each have their own idea. The groom's family comes from their town an hour away just to say hello.  Tea.  The bride's extended family goes to visit the groom's family. Lunch, along with a couple dozen of their relatives and friends. Protocols are fine tuned. What pre-nuptial rituals will be observed? Whose opinion or preference will prevail defaults to uncles and the couple's parents. When and where will the marriage occur? The couple being Christian, they ignore horoscope considerations, but family trees are compared. The availability of church and reception is verified. Where will the bride and groom spend their first night?  The next several days before going on a short trip? Who will provide what? Each side prepares a list of don't miss items the other side should provide. Lists are exchanged. The bride professes no opinion on all of the above.  So far. Presumably, the groom, still at work in another state, does not weigh in, at least that we know .

Each side of the family designs and delivers (in most cases, by hand) a wedding invitation to their side of the family and friends. One of the men delivers our invitation to 'the boys' side.' They reciprocate.

I host an American type shower for the women of our side of the family to share the gift of memories and blessings on behalf of my Attamma (mother-in-law), the bride's grandmother, who was a remarkable woman, but no longer with us.  (MAJOR boo-boo.  I forget to invite Attamma's younger sister. I am ashamed of myself, but am counting on the sister to be more gracious than I. There will be other events)   We send the men off, and have a hilarious time playing shower games, then open our hearts to share fond memories of a Godly, and generous woman. Tea follows. It's also the wedding anniversary of one of the uncles. Auntie disavows the celebration this year, so we all troop into her room to sing 'Happy Anniversary' and share a cake and prayer anyway.

A sister-in law reminds siblings to have a group photo, since one can never know when the seven will meet together again.  The siblings oblige.  Nieces and the sole nephew clamor and clamber over each other and the sofa opposite,  each seeking to take the best group photo. I lend extra led lighting to brighten the visage of  dark faces.  Hilarity crescendos, and the uncle suggests that we take it to the Sankranthi program being noisily conducted in the school grounds, a few doors down the street. There, costumed drummers play lively rhythms, welcoming and accompanying guests into the venue.

Wedding banns are announced in church on the first of two Sundays preceding the wedding. Then comes a lull of five days while conferring, shopping, and planning continue. Flower vendors are sampled. Decorators are chosen for the reception venue. Caterers are interviewed; one is chosen and the menu agreed upon. Bargaining throughout, with an eye on the budget.  Everything seems to be more expensive than expected.

A week before the wedding a niece and husband who live in the 'States host a rooftop barbecue for all of our side of the family. Strings of lights including several IKEA fixtures, (real) potted palms, and a boombox provide atmosphere, along with the evening breeze. (It was 90 degrees f, earlier today.) Dinner is served up from a buffet created upon the service coupola stairs.

As we get ready to go up for the barbecue, the groom drops in to meet family who have not met him previously.  He seems open and down to earth. He and the bride-to-be have a brief opportunity to talk face to face for less than an hour.  Total time they've met in person thus far, a couple of hours. ("Introduced" by family contacts, betrothed in the presence of a few elders from both sides, they've been face-timing and phoning only for several months.) They go downstairs to wait for his car. After he leaves; we tease her for coming late to the barbecue. Her dad appears relieved that she has re-appeared.  "He's gone, for now anyway.  Good." We laugh. And the party continues with photo opps and Qubani ka meetha, a festive dessert of apricot sauce on ice cream, traditional in Hyderabad, the former state capital.

Later one of the uncles perceives an element of disrespect in that 'the boy' appeared. unannounced, however briefly, at 'the girl's' side's party before the marriage. I am taken aback. Was it disrespectful? With so much variation in expectation from country to country, family to family, and sub-culture to subculture, religion to religion, not to mention person to person, that I wonder whether it is ever possible to arrive at a common acceptability of manners. Times are changing, have changed since 'our day.' Our elders are gone.

Without them, we are new elders, brainstorming and comparing notes as we make our way through new times in old territories. A brief encounter at a party thrown by his age group peers (most of whom live in the U.S.) seems innocuous enough to me.  But I am the foreigner, the outsider, here; what do I know? 'The boy' lives and works in a more progressive Indian city.  'The girl' lives in America, but, being a dutiful Indian daughter, wants to have it 'the traditional way.'  But nothing is as it was, and the Indian experience never turns out quite as one expects.

Oh and then there will be more. There's almost always more!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

He packed me a potato!

December 31

The old year ends hurriedly, distributing perishables from the frig, packing last minute items, tidying up, finishing laundry, snatching a few hours of shut-eye before the airport van is to pick us up at 4:30. Yes, that's a.m. My darling husband, knowing potato is my favorite vegetable, boils the last one whole. (Our anxiety over differing luggage allowances on domestic and international flights dissipates when our bags are checked in all the way from MSP curbside to Rajiv Gandhi Airport, Hyderabad.) Cold boiled potato tastes great while we await our flight, beyond slowly opening restaurants, at the end of the concourse. (Do you know potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamins C, B6, iron and magnesium?  My argument in favor of a penchant for potato chips.)

It feels odd to miss worshipping in our own church for the fourth time in a month, this first Sunday in the New Year.  Illness, snow, and ice consumed three Sundays in December, and today, the flight. We simply thank God for blessings of travel, reunion, service, family, friends. I hate to think of being half a world away from our children, but even they are supportive of our going forth.  Wonders of modern communication: additional blessings, not so readily accessible even a couple of years ago. We can hardly wait for the next face time.

We travel to India via Orlando, where there is a seven hour delay; The airline serves sandwich lunches to us passengers as we wait at our gate under a glass rotunda, once again, at the remote end of an expansive concourse; and Dubai, where there is a ten hour delay: Immigration and security formalities in Dubai appear to be negligible.  Perhaps the Emiratis have found a way to conduct surveillance without appearing to do so. It certainly makes for a relaxed airport experience. Emirates staff in Orlando, on the flight, and here seem tirelessly cheerful, prompt, and specific about telling and listening to details and requests.

Two amiable young men waste no time taking us on a mile long wheel chair journey past endless seating and service areas, soaring silver striped columns, indoor palms and fountains... to a counter where our two seats, mistakenly listed on two different flights, are re-booked, and we are to await a bus. His flight, the earlier one, is already missed, and we are happy to be assigned seats, though not together, on a later flight. A few hours' rest in a pleasant hotel room and a leisurely supper at generous buffet refresh us for the shorter flight to Hyderabad, where the morning arrival 'formalities' are similarly seamless. What a contrast to the not-so-long-ago 'old days.')

Faithful Raghava, our driver, cook, and 'right hand,' meets us at the airport with the car, and we set out for Guntur right away. We stop for lunch at a large and bustling roadside restaurant mall with everything from served, sit down meals and a Subway counter (you heard right!) to ice cream and pastry shops. The four to five lane highway is only interrupted as we drive through the city just before Guntur, where urban clearing of ample lane space proceeds by fits and starts. But Raghava knows bypasses, and traffic is light, so our progress through town takes half the time it took last year..

Continuing on our way to Guntur, close by now, we chuckle ruefully as we pass a small parcel of land we'd bought years ago. We'd thought to build a small house in a housing development, planned for the area. Alas, highway widening precluded said development. Our government-appropriated space is now a turn lane near a twelve port toll gate!  Finally, we arrive home at mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the third. A half day 'lost' in the international time difference between India and the U.S.

Once a quiet lane of modest three to four room bungalows, our street is now blacktopped, and home to four and five story apartment buildings. Ours has ten apartments, half of them occupied by Fr. and his four brothers. Two brothers' families live there year round; they and two sisters' families meet to greet and debrief, feed and exchange curries with us off and on; the pace will quicken when another two brothers and some of their children also arrive from the states a week later.  One of the girls is getting married, and the topic of weddings is constantly on our agenda.

Sleep, blessed sleep, takes over for much of the rest of the week.  'Managed to stay awake for the quickening stream of family visits and/or meals, though. Occasionally a potato curry, even.  And chips! And of course, tea,'chai' style, two or three times a day.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016 Day Thirty and I'm Glad

May 30, but not published until June 4:  NaPoWriMo 2016 Day Thirty and I'm Glad

I'm glad I stuck it out to the thirtieth day of the April challenge, for several reasons:
...The participant's poem quoted is a ghazal, a particular poem form I try periodically to understand and create, the featured foreign poet is a Mexican woman--timely because we just happened upon the biographical movie, FRIDA, another creative Mexican woman, last night,
...because the challenge is to try my hand at a translation, the example being the bilingual blog of a gardener who writes in both English and German, a language I studied briefly in college and into which (language) I dip for mental floss on occasion.
...all interesting and fun to me.
...Oh, and I learn from the gardener's blog that the NaPoWriMo creator is named Marlene who, in her own introduction today, gives her email address for feedback; needless to say, I have some!  But, for now, just,  Good morning, and thank you, Marlene!

I understand Hugo Wolf's German translation-from-the-Italian poem, Auch Kleine Dinge, is in the public domain.  If this is not true, someone please tell me and I will remove it from this blog and the net. The translation from the German into English is my own.  I did my best not even to look at an
English version before I did my own.  My aim was to craft the sense of the thought into a new and fresh poem.  Hopefully I did so along the lines of intent of the original, which I have yet to see!

(poem pending further revision...)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016 Day Twenty Nine: Remembering Spring

Today's challenge:  Write a list where every line begins with an 'I remember' and is rich in concrete detail. Make a poem with  or without the 'I remember' refrain.

Remembering Spring
by Shirley Smith Franklin

I remember the greening of trees, softening the lines of their stark black trunks.
I remember the pink of wild cherry tree branches bending toward each other to confer.
I remember feeling confident that I could open the side door without help.
I remember dressing for Easter church and wearing a blue and gray checked coat, though the day was warm.

I remember babysitting a newborn on new year's eve in the subdued lighting of the house that was the first place I ever heard NPR. I was too young to be trusted with such a responsibility, but they assured me the baby wouldn't wake up in my charge.  (Cliffhanger report:  the baby slept the whole time.)

Well, there you have it, wimping out you may say, but there are other words, other papers, other tasks (including doing the dishes and sorting the laundry!) keening for my attention. Perhaps I may come back to this list some day.  The possibilities are endless, were the return to result in a work of fiction.

One more day to go on the April challenges...then, back to the backlog of possibilities at my desk!
This has been fun, however breathless.  It will be interesting to look back at what I wrote after a period of time...(confession: I do look back, perhaps too often--is that possible?-- already!)...and to browse the poets-in-translation and the translations-of-poets-of-other-nations embedded in each of NaPoWriMo's daily April posts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016 Day Twenty Eight: Story Upside Down

The challenge:  Write a poem that tells a story, from end to beginning.  The example given is rather simple.  'Wonder what I'll come up with...'must think about this while exercising at the Y today...
and now it's tomorrow...

There Goes Memorial Day
a story told backwards
by Shirley Smith Franklin

But that's how it was.
This wasn't how it was supposed to turn out.
She sighed at the flowers.
She heard the stairs creak while he went to his room.
They stood there for awhile.
Tears welled up as she put them on the counter.
'I picked them for you, mom.'
'I was saving those for the cemetery!'
But she gasped instead.
Obviously hoping she'd hug him and smile.
He'd picked gladiola.
Her nine year old son came in bearing flowers.
It was a sunny day.
One year had passed since her mother had died.

NaPoWriMo 2016 Day 27: Along Longer Lines

Today the challenge is to write longer, haiku-like lines, with seventeen syllables in each line.  The syllable count in this potpourri, using lines and rejoinders old and new -- would you call it a poem? -- got a bit carried away, and galloped off at an average rate of twenty.

by Shirley Smith Franklin

If wishes were horses and horses could ride, why don't we invite horses inside?
If a penny saved is a penny earned,  why aren't piggy banks bursting at their seams?
When a stitch in time saves nine, why, by now isn't the whole world a safer place?
When you look before you leap, you might remember other promises to keep.
They say he or she who laughs last, laughs best, but where's the joke, and who's laughing now?
They say rolling stones gather no moss, but they flatten everything in their way.
Settle arguments before dark, debts before borrowing; better yet, don't have them.
See beauty in everything, look in the mirror. Reflect on what you see there.

Monday, May 2, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 26: Say It Again!

Today's challenge, a 'call and response' poem, ala sermons and hymns, folk songs from many nations, work chanties, or cheers.  Googling 'call and response' brings up plenty of examples. A website called SongFacts lists a number of popular songs of this type. Another mentions Ella Jenkins' songs for children, including the catchy (which ones of hers aren't?!) "Jambo," that was popular with some of my first grade classes.

I'm wondering whether repetition of the last lines of stanzas qualifies as 'responding'--'anybody out there know?  I'm thinking of working both response and last-line-repetition into whatever comes out of the pen (computer) today...stay tuned!  [In the end, I just used the refrain line as italicized in the poem below, a frivolous combination of words that happened to rhyme.  Make of it what you will, and, if you would be so kind, please send your impressions and comments my way!]

The Campaign
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Strangest political campaign in years
Tell us, average voters, what are your fears?
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Listen to the candidates tout their stuff
denounce their opponents, create mythic fluff,
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Hubris and promises made over beers,
move us to laughter or sometimes to tears.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Let one of them make the smallest mistake,
others soon calculate which tack to take.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

He's winning, she's winning, that one is out,
'confusing to know what this is about.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

He scorns women, he even flouts it.
She asks,'What do men know about it?'
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

He says the country's become a dump,
get on with the vote, get over this hump.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

She's got ideas for making things fair.
He has more money, his power is there.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Heaven knows the future's going to be rough;
dissention, contention are not good stuff.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Economic bust or economic boom;
can you see the elephant in this room?
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Although this sorry scene may be amusing,
Vote for the candidate least confusing.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Lest nations, in dismay, while looking askance,
politely demur when they're asked to dance.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!

Lest our country be diminished, fail to thrive,
under a leader unable to drive.
Trump! Frump! Heffalump!