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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"We are Andhra women, and we know how to ad-JUST!"

                                                                                                           Guntur, A.P., India
                                                                                                           Last week in January, 2016

Five decades ago (can you believe it?!) this was the cheerful mantra of my Indian teacher friends when faced with incredible amounts of correction work (like, sixty students per class), frequent unexpected school closings, or a strict headmistress's order to forego lessons to prepare for special occasions and visitors.  And adjust they did, while I, young and ?perhaps? idealistic, spluttered in the wake of their self-talk, positive-think.

This frequent testing of one's ability to adjust is definitely a factor in the incredible resilience evidenced every day across every age group of India's diverse population.
Not long after things settle down following the maddening soundscape of our first week here in December, our son calls to see how we are doing.  I comment on how freely and frequently family members move among the three brothers' apartments in our almost-new building (Mary Shree, named in memory of my mother-in-law). 'Of course,' I say, 'We can adjust And, at the end of the day, we each have our own separate place, right?'

Are             --             you             --             kid             --             ding             ....    ?

"This is India," a refrain repeated like a mantra whenever (like, frequently) plans go awry. It is not long before the ability of all of our families, who have lived all of our adult lives separately, to live and interact as a joint family is tested.

A major remodeling of a sister- and brother-in-law's house has stalled; it won't be ready for visitors expected a few days hence.  Her daughter and a British colleague, along with his family, and a Belgian priest, are due in ten days for a three and two week stays, including a formal engagement party for the young couple. Where to host them? Time for group-think.

Three brothers and two sisters meet to confer on the most culturally appropriate way to provide comfortable hospitality.  Too banal and inconvenient, a nice, nearby hotel is out of the question. Not enough privacy and also inconvenient: to disperse the family among apartments of three brothers who already live at Mary Shree and the other sister's apartment a mile away.  How about utilizing one of the two vacant Mary Shree apartments?  It's a 'no-brainer; the obvious best solution is to host the family in the apartment of one of the two brothers and families still to come on holiday from the states, just before the guest family is due to depart.

Fine.  We can adjust.

There's just one thing: the apartments are unfurnished. Beds? Frig? Curtains and linens? No problem. Move things over from the house under rehab.

There's just one more thing: sister-in-law moves into our own guest room to better be able to direct logistics of cleaning, moving and meal planning.  Here she will stay, with her daughter in another bedroom, for the duration of the run-up-to and including their guests' India stay.  Another opportunity to adjust.

Cooking will occur in our apartment, with additional input from the two brothers already resident in their own apartments in the building. My hubby suggests his sister take over our cooking planning and supervision, in favor of her guests (and us too).With help:  Our driver/cook and cleaning gal, full and part time, respectively,  have only agreed to work for the two of us, that too, for only a few months a year.  Suddenly they are being pressed into intense service, preparing the dinner and doing doing the laundry for

Every day becomes an exercise in determining and moving furniture, curtains, living room, minimal kitchen utensils, bedroom and bathroom furnishings, some from apartments of three brothers already living in the building, some from her or her sister's house. Frequent conferrings add more ideas to the list of what might be wanted or needed. Tea?A hotplate so as to have it ready in the morning? Stocking up on supplies for the duration.

Now, more than ever, you never know who's in which apartment or serving which meal or item to whom.  But everyone is behind the project, and it falls into place.  I have relatively little to do: just basically stay out of the way. Thinking that the British are likely to be extremely polite,  I check my laid-back mid-western manners, wondering whether I might say something offensive or commit a blunder, whether they'll find our hospitality appropriate or presumptuous.

Suddenly, they are here, our niece a tiny, beaming young woman, her beau tall, shy, and soft spoken. But it's his parents who blow us away.  They are as casual and unassuming as ever guests could be. Conversations warm up, cameras are at the ready, meals--and shopping--begin.

The young man's mom, Rosemary, and I have a practical and sisterly gabfest while shopping for suitable Indian garb to wear to the engagement. Each of us confesses to feeling awkward about wearing a saree (for me, a change from my youthful eagerness to try just that), as cheerfully expected by the women of the family, and our helper, Pushpa.  The saree is undoubtedly the garment of elegance, but the clumsiness of age and lack of practice leave me feeling awkward in one, and it's too late to order the obligatory, tailor made, close fitting, matching blouse.  We're under a time crunch. Other dresses we see are over-the-top gaudy or ill fitting.  I am about to give up when Rosemary points out nice features of a Punjabi dress ensemble, which I try on, and finally buy. She remains undecided whether to try 'dressing Indian' for the engagement, or just be herself.  We relate.

Back at home, hubby and I cling to our nap schedule, followed by tea.  The Brits do too, seating themselves at table for tea as well as meals.  Usually.  They eat what they are served, happily including the stronger spices over which my stomach has begun to protest. They are prompt and proactive for whatever is to come up next on their trip agenda.  So, not to worry, they can adjust.

There's the engagement event, Christmas, two more brother-in-laws' families coming by New Year, they and the "Brits' staying for a couple of weeks, and then the approving and interviewing of possible 'matches' (candidates) for marriage with another niece or two, a family reunion, for good measure.  While we try to gain some momentum on nonprofit work we are here to do.

The young people of the families visiting from USA show decidedly independent preferences in their activities, not all of them pre-approved by their 'elders,' who in turn are equally eager to settle in to their apartments for the first time.  The young cousins revel in each others' company, and are on their best while just hanging out at home, or while at church, or on field trips organized especially in honor of the British visitors by the brother-in-law who is their erstwhile host.

Not to worry, everyone seems able, on some level, to adjust.  As each day continues to unfold in unexpected ways, the question is, can we?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Source of Our Joy

Source of Our Joy, by Shirley Smith Franklin                                                                 
                                                                                               Last week in December, 2015

In this mixed up and topsy-turvy world, full to bursting with hopes and fears, migrations, mountains quaking, icebergs and oceans melting and heating, how and to whom does Christmas come?

Does it come as strong arms lifting a frightened child from the tired arms of a parent clambering out of a boat onto firm ground of uncertain refuge? Does it come in the form of barbaric acts and sweeping migrations in the name of God and freedom?  A volunteer chatting the evening away with a stranger who has outlived all her relatives and friends.? Children’s memorized recitations and role-play? Amplified voices exhorting the faithful to praise or to pray, now and forevermore? School children decorating place mats and singing for senior citizens? Worshipers streaming to and from the church (ten thousand is a modest estimate of the crowd at our neighborhood church despite wearying sixty minute sermons, and ear-splitting audio-over-amplification) during five hours on Christmas Day? In the form of a skinny teenage mother nursing a toddler at the street corner, resting, along with a few more beggars, in the glare of the noonday sun from their holiday windfall from door-to-door canvassing for a few rupees, ripe fruit and old clothes? A child asking the origin and meaning of the word Christmas? Does it come on the wind as music, old familiar or shrill new, songs in so many languages that only God could understand them all? As instantly translated high level talks among world leaders in well lit, lofty chambers? In an outdoor, candle and moonlit circle of worshipers with a background of gently throbbing drums?  Crinkle and crush of bright wrappings  tossed aside from gifts of more or less thought and value, given out of duty or love?  In three family members rushing another to the ER, or the medical team bending over him or her, just as the angels once bent low to sing their song of life-giving love?

How has Christ come for you this Christmas?

And where will you seek Him in the year to come?


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Seven Days and Counting, Part Two

We sleep.  And sleep.  As we emerge from the disorientation of long travel and topsy turvy timing, new and remembered details of people, place, and thing slip through consciousness like details of scenery viewed from a moving train.

Half a dozen bright parrots tumble into the neighbor's wild-branched jaama-kaya (guava) tree, thrash about in pairs. fly swiftly off. Is the guava tree their home? Or just a trysting place? Another day, a solitary red-beak contemplates the concrete dominated neighborhood from a window ledge on the back of the house, flies away when I move closer for a better look.

Pushpa and Raghava, our cleaning/assistant cook and cook/driver/"local yellow pages" are back to help us five and eight hours a day, five or six days a week.  'Hard to find words to explain to folks at home in US how and why we employ people here to do things we do ourselves in the 'states. I'll tell you after thinking about it some more.

We listen and try to re-orient ourselves to old and new details about people, places, things. The first one up unlocks the front door, opens casement windows for cooler air, makes a cup of tea.  Raghava slips in, greets us in a hush, makes more tea.  Murmured conversation.  Pushpa arrives: ditto, as she sets to work on breakfast or chopping veggies for lunch. She giggles at the prospect of learning to cook from Raghava, our usual cook cum driver, and is amused at my renewed attempts to teach her to sort the laundry by compatible color.

Our elevator has been kept in good repair, glides and stops smoothly, even sounds quieter than a year ago when it was new. Our elbows are exercised (Arya will know what I mean) as we drag the heavy, double grilled doors open and shut, but before we ever can, a recorded, annoyed woman's voice scolds from within the elevator shaft, "Please shut the DOOR!!"

In that first week,  I’m awakened from nap one afternoon by a rush of young chatter...A single line of white and blue uniformed school children and pairs of saree clad teachers from a nearby school stride along two sides of the block, heading, I learn, for an annual government school census.  (Echoes of Bethlehem?!)  No doubt it’s a welcome diversion from the relentless study and schoolroom life of both teacher and child.  An hour later they come chattering back. Next day’s Deccan Chronicle compares the states’s school enrollment with actual attendance: both abysmal.

Voluntary demolition of modest homes and the building of apartments in this mid-city neighborhood are in full swing.  Concrete apartment buildings are currently under construction in front of and behind us. This seems to be the week for workers to custom-cut the ubiquitous tile, the flooring of choice (and of necessity: trees are a protected species in India), and saw they do, on site, from breakfast until bedtime. Conversations are dropped or shouted while relentless tile cutting  continues. In the early  morning, grinding of condiments and soaked lentils in a mixie (heavy duty blender)  for the day's meals is nearly as loud.

The drilling ricochets against concrete walls, competes with loudspeakers blasting street hawkers and leaders of neighbourhood events, all of which proceed with great gusto, if not finesse: music, chanting and preaching of revival, wedding, worship, housewarming, or annual festival – Christian or Hinldu, all punctuated by the Muezzin calls-to-prayer from two directions. The over amplified finale of a Bollywood movie in a theatre a little over a block away. The beeps and motors of late night traffic. This frenzied soundscape continues like never before, and well past midnight, for the first few days of our visit. What have we gotten ourselves into???  I toy with the idea of going back home.

 In contrast, the usual silence from midnight to four thirty a.m. is near absolute. Then, a bucket being set down on tile, water splashing, birds chirping, the click of microwave opening or the starter over the gas stove, the patient swish, swish of street and doorway being swept with grass brooms, unique tunes of cell phones and cars backing out of parking spaces, all gradually crescendo long before the typical nine o’clock breakfast, by which time the elevator, traffic and construction are in full swing again.  A quiet hour between noon and two is soft and gentle on the ear.  Miss it and you will have a harder time napping when noises start up again.
It takes a few days to make out new and more robust cries of peddlers making their way along the street throughout the day: “Ooraguy! Oy, ooraguy!” (vegetables), or “Kamalaalu, appel, appel, kamalaalu” (“loose- jacket” sweet oranges, apples). Gone is the bulk salt seller with his near-regurgitating cry ,”Oop-poo (uppu means salt)!!”  Free flowing salt is now one of the multiplying packaged items flooding the market, replacing some of the peddlers. The paper collector adds his loudspeaker to the mix as he wheels his cart past: “Paper, bring out your paper stuff! Sell your old paper and gain a few rupees! Come and bring your useless paper, notebooks, newspapers, old books, school books  old God’s words (scriptures.)”  Really?  God’s word gets old?  I don’t think so.
Every morning, singing a hymn or two and reading from our tiny, worn, travelling new testament, given by friends for an anniversary, refresh me enough to face a new day.  Whether I read at random or continuously, there is always a word of narrative, exhortation, or consolation that stands out, surprises even, in its relevance to these days. 
But we long to hear our own children's voices, and phone them each, both to touch base and to update them and ourselves on relatives and friends.  Our daughter talks about her school going children. It's hard to believe we were at 'Grandparents' Day' with our granddaughter in Minnesota just a few days ago. Our son gives an update on their newborn, then asks how things are, over here.  I describe the frequent comings and goings of four local families of in-laws, two of whom live the same building, and walk freely in and our of our open door for a chat.  He asks pointedly, on the basis of his own experience, "Are you able to maintain some privacy for yourselves?
"Sure," I reply, "of course! We have our own separate place now, right?" Right...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Seven Days and Counting, Part One

If half a day is lost in travelling eastward over the date line, does it count as one day? As my dad might’ve said, “You tell me and we’ll both know.”                                                      
Our early December fourteen hour Houston-Dubai flight drags on...The traveller in front of me leans back, putting the screen too close for me to pass time with a movie.  I doze. Chat with Indian nurse in next seat. Eat. Walk the aisles to limber up. Doze.  Eat. Muscles cramp. 'Can’t wait to arrive in Dubai.   
Our pilot tips the plane this way and that for a dark-night view of the Dubai’s Palm Island, a glittering fairytale work of urban art inscribed on the ocean. The air is clear and city lights lend a soft glow to ultra modern skyscrapers and more modest whitewashed neighborhoods. In a group of older passengers, we are shepherded through security at the huge shiny airport, while young men recheck endless lists and tickets, and deliver passengers to various gates along the way to ours.  It appears that we are a practice batch for young airport personnel.                                                                  
The three and a half hour Dubai-Hyderabad flight is more bearable.  My seatmate is a tall man with remarkably long and slender hands.  I ask politely about his destination.  Impassive, he does not reply. He checks out flight information, murmurs something to a portly passenger by the window, but most of the time sits quietly, hands folded in his lap. I guess that he might be a musician or artist. He seems to own the arm rest between us.  I lean toward the aisle, and watch “A Walk in the Woods” and part of the Hindi movie, “Bajrang Bhai Jaan.” ‘Sorry the flight ends before the movie, I make a note to see it later.  Our nieces have said it’s a must-see.
 Claiming luggage among our airbus crowd after quick immigration and customs clearance at 3 a.m. in Hyderabad's modern Rajeev Gandhi International Airport is predictably chaotic but polite. Everyone has too many overloaded bags, too many look alike.  Cell phones are out, for those lucky enough to have prior connectivity to local lines. Luggage carts and attentive porters help everybody sort things out, and soon we are claiming three hours’ respite and breakfast at a tiny, dimly lit, tranquil transit hotel in a lower level of the airport. (The bed fills our room, the bathroom is barely more than a pocket, but it's quiet!, clean, and more than adequate.) Time flies. The phone alarm seems to ring even before I've fallen asleep.                                                              
I want to stay longer, but my husband, understandably eager to reach home, hires a government licensed airport taxi, a red SUV, for the five hour drive to Guntur.  Most of this trip is along a six lane national highway, with new bougainvillea plantings in the center of the black and white striped medians, periodic truck stops, toll booths, international brand gas stations and bucolic, “meals-hotels” (we lunch at one) along the way. Heavy traffic and congested, restricted lanes in the nearby city of Vijayawada, on the banks of the Krishna River, take an extra hour, but we know Guntur is close by, and we are glad. 
  Dusk falls as we reach our gate.  Old and new apartment staff greet us warmly, and whisk our luggage up in the elevator. Everything in our quarters is as we left it last spring. Tickled to be at home, but surprised by unprecedented surround-sound of nearby building construction, we laugh and shrug at the ironies of ‘progress.’ Smiling relatives who have apartments in the building drop in to say hello, and bring us a bit to eat. before we drop into exhausted but sound and satisfying sleep. 
Evening and morning, and that’s the first day.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

We know who we are, and we know who you are, too.

We know who we are, and we know who you are, too.

While preparing this commentary, I heard of yet another paper detailing the uses of technology for the marketplace, named "We know where you live and we know who you are: The Instrumental Rationality of "Geodemographic Systems."  ( Jon Goss, U of Hawaii) I beg their pardon for usurping part of histitle, and admit that I know little about the field. These comments, and others on my blog, are unscientifically based on my own personal experiences and observations relating to identity, autonomy, and volition in modern day India.

A long but fascinating, almost scary, discussion of intelligent software that reads emotions appeared in The New Yorker, January 19, 2015), proclaiming, "We know how you feel."  That got me thinking of the Indian phenomenon of what I like to call 'group think,' or, "We know who you are." Emphasis on the we.

The topic has been on my mind for some time, and even came up here, in the states, as my husband recounted an encounter between our son and me. It had happened ten years ago; but my husband recounted the incident as though he had been the parent in that encounter. That being a very dear memory to me, I blurted out, "That was my story!" At which he hastily amended his version to "we..."

Many of us in the West have grown up in homogeneous communities, which are changing even as I write this.  As we live and move and have our being among a greater diversity of people, we have a lot to learn about each other, about how to be friends with each other, what is needed and how to respect one another's beliefs, customs, expectations and space.  What we don't know can give rise to fear or friendship, curiosity or criticism, teamwork or tension, welcome or withdrawal.

The same is true in India, and, for that matter, everywhere in this increasingly interconnected world which we inhabit.  So what's the difference in India?  I believe it has to do with the near-absolute density of the increasingly urban population along with a continually evolving,  incredibly rich and varied heritage from time immemorial, which continues, and increases by the minute.   Thanksgiving week, the news is that India's population has surpassed China.  And counting...

The result of being born and bred in such a closely knit yet infinitely diverse universe is, as I see it, often results in incredible poise and presence-of-mind, evident even in young children. At the same time, it engenders a joint ownership of, and group responsibility for, experience and behavior 'group think,' which to the independent American can prove exasperating, if not suffocating.  How to live and move gracefully in that context?  What happens when I want to claim ownership of my own thought and experience...Am I perceived as being peevish? How do I come across when just 'being myself'?

For that matter, who am I?  Besides being a beloved child of God, I  am accustomed to being defined by a variety of roles and relationships. Do my various internet profiles even begin to tell?

Food for thought...

Happy Thanksgiving

Cold. Windy. Snowy. Memories of childhood in northern Minnesota when Thanksgiving usually brought the first snow deep enough to be a soft landing for a child jumping off the edge of the front porch. Family gatherings now handed off to my own children, as our departure to spend another season on the other side of the globe nears.  Would I rather be here or there?   It's moot question.

As a child, I was taught, and now recall the words of St. Paul, "Wherever I go, I have learned to be content." Philippians 4:11 (Well, admittedly, I am still learning...)

May today, and the coming days, bring joy and gatherings, whether large or small,  with family or friends, or simply with yourself, remembering and counting our blessings. And being thankful.

Our family observes the custom of holding hands around the table as we pray the table prayer, affirming the connection as we "Shake the love around!" That wish extends to you, too. As we go forth into the coming days, may we remember to Share the love around as well

Wherever life finds you, God bless you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Beautiful October Afternoon

Sunshine brings a glad brightness to yellowing green foliage, punctuated by sumac hurrahs of red and rust. Noon and the early afternoon hours are blessedly still.  Street construction crews and equipment are silent. The dust they've created all summer long settles on window and wall, even a a fine sprinkle has filtered into the house, sifting onto shelves and into cupboards.  But cleaning is suspended until the neighborhood's summer-long street project is complete.  (When, O Lord, when will that be?)

Outside our picture window, a scattering of box elder bugs rejoices in undisturbed sunlight,  their aerial versions of pop wheelies and stately mazurkas vying to impress.  Who feels sad, depressed, forlorn?

Come and see.

This show is free. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Work to Do and Ten Things I Have Left on Planes

Browsing in old and not-so-old journals, sorting and filing new poems and notes for revisions on old, discovering half-written, originally-never-intended-for publication poems.  Does this snippet from September 22 of this year qualify?

                                 Ten Things I have Left on Planes
                                       by Shirley Smith Franklin

My ticket
Two full size pillows
One shawl
One umbrella
Empty lunch bags, plastic, zip
One half-eaten chocolate bar
Every neck pillow I've owned
Several airline magazine contest entries, neat, complete, correct
One small notebook, with notes from the funeral of my very best friend forever
and contact information for her family
who were to tell me more about her  later
My heart
and all that makes the world
so bright, so beautiful, and fair.

She loved me. And I love her still.

Note to reader: [Is this a poem?  Does it matter whether it is? What do you think?]

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Challenge Remains

NaPoWriMo (April as National Poetry Writing Month) is long past and the balmy breezes of June lure one away from the desk, but the unwritten daily poetry writing challenges of NaPoWriMo's eleventh through thirtieth days remain, and remain on my mind.  And so it is with (more than?) mere curiosity that I turn back to the unfinished list, to see whether the next prompt might indeed prompt me to write a poem.  And it is a challenge indeed.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Day Nine, a VIsual Poem

Today's poem is to be an example of visual poetry.  The challenger suggests leaving the computer and holdng forth on large paper...The examples given look pretty daunting.  How about mine, composed directly on the computer?

                                                          Oh           my
                                                        listen  p   I love  
                                                     I could   o   write it
                                                    all day    e  every day
                                                  wrap my   t   heart round
                                                  it feel its   r    heart beat
                                                   beating    y   with mine
                                                     celebrating writing
                                                          every day and
                                                              every way
                                                                 oh my

                                                                             Shirley Smith Franklin 4/25/15

Friday, April 24, 2015

The twenty fourth...and (disclaimer: mine are often atypical) Haiku Day again

Little is more depressing
than matching dark socks
on a gray day.
                        -- Shirley Smith Franklin 4-17-15

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Abcdarian

She is learning the song,
'h, i, j, k, l-m-n-o-JEFF!'
recites with such determination
I don't have the heart to tell her
that it's 'l, m, n-o-P.'
Then, when, learning to write
her creative spellings, not 'correct'--
never seem to please her teacher,
and I am too busy
to take her to play in the park.
An MBA and two children later,
she still has trouble spelling.
Dyslexic, they call it. But now
she takes her children to the park.

         by Shirley Smith Franklin April 19, 2014

Friday, April 17, 2015

Day Seventeen, an atypical Haiku

Day Seventeen...but where have days from eight through sixteen gone?  I shall not say 'alas', for they
have been full, spent for good purposes, though leaving little time for creative keyboard work.  Let them go.  Today is the greening of the field and the budding of the tree, time for new things to grow from and among the old.  I shall take the prompt from a second NaPoWriMo prompt site (or is it one from a former year?) to write a 4-9-4 syllable Haiku today.  Then it's onward and upward to enjoy the sunshine, clear air  and blue sky. Every spring is a rebirth for me, for favorite old memories and making new ones. Live and in full color.  In person.  Oh, there it is, the poem writes itself...!

Fields green, trees bud,
embrace color, live, in person,
fairest Spring awakes.

                           ---Shirley Smith Franklin 4/15

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Day 8

A palinode...retracts a statement made in an earlier today's poetry challenge.  Hmmm...why would I want to do that?  I am too serious today.  I have changed my mind, even regretted, a number of things, but believing in the greater value of fidelity, have not retracted a number of things that, in retrospect, perhaps I should have.  (like ending that sentence with a verb, a partial one at that.  Regrets, I think I do not want to dwell on them intentionally...the thought to do so comes often enough.  Let's pluck material right from this paragraph...

Retract, pull back,
or telescope, distance:
which shall it be?
Regret, be sorry,
or reconsider, think:
what might have been?
Value, cherish,
or dwell, pause here awhile:
how beats the heart?
Enough, sufficient.
or intention, serious,
within the garden of love.
                 --a fragment of the imagination, Shirley Smith Franklin, 4/15

Friday, April 10, 2015

NaPoWriMo Day Seven: A Poem about Money, or Worth....

Poetry is Money     (-- an exercise in writing about 'worth' -- unedited)

Poetry's purchase
     is entertainment
     of body, mind, soul
     food for spirit
     grist for argument
proxy admission
     to confession
     transporting to
     vistas faraway
     or interior
Poetry's lesson
     not easily learned
          or forgotten
     pulsing its rhythm
     in time or theme
     like learning to sing
Poetry's voice is
        when you believe
     you can fly
     you can fly
     you can fly.

            Shirley Smith Franklin 4/15


Hello Hyderabad/Goodbye Hyderabad

Our visits to Hyderabad this year were unusual in a number of ways. Hyderabad, once the opulent city of a Nizam, then the capital of undivided Andhra Pradesh, is now the capital of Telangana, a new designation and state carved from the inland, northern and western portion of the former state. Unexpected family events marked our arrival and departure.   We had planned to stay and rest for a couple of days, perhaps visiting a relative or two, before going on to Guntur.

The day we arrived, the ranking aunty in the family, in her 90's, was just coming out of surgery for a broken hip.  She'd survived a mastectomy and recovered just a couple years ago, so it was expected she would do well this time too.  Franklin was able to go into the ICU and was the first to see her. She recognized and greeted him, so we left other family with her at Sunshine Hospital (coincidentally just a few blocks from the Yatri Nivas where we'd stayed on previous Hyderabad visits) .  But we decided to continue, instead, all the way to Guntur.

The rest of our trip that mid-December day was uneventful, except for amazement at the new divided highway and being able to enjoy biryani at a nice new restaurant conveniently located half way along the five hour route.

In January we returned to Hyderabad for a few days of visiting and shopping when son Prashant and family were there, bound for the U.S. after a couple weeks in India.  Getting together for any of the above proved difficult...Again we experienced the absolute density of traffic that I described during Christmas holidays in Guntur.  Travel across town to places we had formerly reached in fifteen minutes now could be expected to take an hour . Existing traffic overbridges ("flyovers) are not sufficient: more are being built, as is the extension of an overhead metro railroad, all requiring extensive clearing of the smaller shops lining the roads. And there was new construction and remodelling everywhere.

But somehow we were able to convene a family get together for a couple dozen relatives of ours and daughter in law Hari's families one evening at a restaurant, and a good time was had by all.  Biryani, of course, is a must in Hyderabad!

We were treated to effusive hospitality for two meals by our daughter in law's relatives, who pressed us to stay longer, and stay overnight at their apartment (adjacent to a temple whence cymbals and chanting of the latest festival resounded through the neighborhood), as well.  "Why would you want to stay at a hotel?" one auntie puzzled.  "Who is there to talk to? Just the two of you:  boring!"  Another example of the typical extended Indian family "group think" -- "The more the merrier."

When we returned to Hyderabad at the end of my India stay (Franklin stayed on a few weeks more) mid-February, we planned to shop and attend the wedding reception of his cousin's daughter.  Alas, that was not to be.  A phone call came while we were en route to Hyderabad: our beloved Auntie Vasumathi had passed away in Hyderabad that morning, and the family, including the wedding party, was already on their way to Guntur for the funeral.  The reception, of course, was cancelled.

Since my flight was booked for that very night, there was no turning back for us, and we continued on to Hyderabad, where we stayed at the PLAZA, a shiny new tourist hotel. Staying there at the same time were a convention full of railroad buffs, and the participants of a small but beautiful wedding and reception that took place on the Plaza's plaza, in full view of the glass walled restaurant. The railroaders were full of fun and camaraderie, their laughter bursting out of their meeting sessions and buzzing around the breakfast buffet.  The wedding and its participants were elegant.

The hallways of the hotel were lined with original artwork by Indian artists, satisfying my usually unfulfilled wish to visitan Indian art gallery. ( The Hyderabad galleries seem to be clumped in one area of the city---always too far from the areas where we stayed and travelled.)  A hallway connected the hotel to a building of government sponsored tourism offices of various states, a Lepakshi and other handicraft shops, and two more, tiny art galleries.  For once I had my fill:  Lepakshi alone was crammed with typical folk craft, making quick shopping a real possibility.  The only other place I'd really wanted to shop was a bookstore, and we found one ( a Walden!) not very far away from the hotel.  I was content.  There was just time to eat supper, cram a few more items into the suitcases, take a snooze, and set out for the hour long drive to the airport...a modern gleaming place, worlds apart from what it had been just a few years ago.

Just last year, Andhra was divided into two parts, and the coastal side, where Guntur is, will be retaining the state name but getting a new capital city with its own infrastructure, hopefully to be completed by 2020.  This new city will be near Guntur and will be served by an international airport, now a bucolic but growing facility, just a few miles from home.

What will our next trip bring?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Aubade - Morning Meditaion

Day Six's poetry prompt is to write an aubade, a morning poem.  Wikipedia suggests that it is often on the subject of lovers parting.  Mornings for me usually start with a sound, whatever I hear first.
In childhood it might have been mother calling for breakfast, the smells wafting up from the kitchen adding a compelling ostinato to the music of her voice.  In the present house it might have come from outside where neighborhood youth sometimes follow a path near our house on their way to school,
from my spouse still snoring in bed or walking down the stairs.  How to incorporate some of these in a poem...???  Here's a first attempt...not very poetic, needs imagery, at least, ...but it's a start.

Aubade - Morning Meditation

Good morning, my world.  
I thank God for what is going to be an amazing day.
My husband, snoring,
may not wake up if I tiptoe downstairs to the kitchen.
I'll enjoy silence
while reading a hymn, a Bible verse or two, and devotions.
Do I like silence
because it lets me wake up more gradually, in my own time?
Does God speak to me
or I listen, more clearly when there are no interruptions??
Thank God for silence
Yet I'm distracted, thinking of warmth I left behind in bed.
Shall I fix breakfast
and surprise him that I've waken up before him, and cooked,
or go back to bed,
ignoring birds, their morning calls crescendoing outdoors,
ignore his snoring,
to meditate instead in the warmth of his waking arms.

                                          Shirley Smith Franklin, 4/2015 - tbr

Sunday, April 5, 2015

NaPoWriMo Day Five: Read to see what happened to day three

Let's get that nagging question out of the way first:  What happened to day three was, simply:             my computer ate it.
Okay, so on with day five.  The prompt, as I understood it, was to dismantle any poem of Emily Dickinson and rewrite it, changing lines and words around, even substituting or adding new words. Virtually creating a new poem from the 'remains.'  This sounded free wheeling, took quite a bit of concentration to carry off without taking the time to list all the words separately, but in the end, it turns out that it was kind of fun.
Emily's poem was a twenty-liner of alternating six and seven syllable lines, with her signature dash at the end of every line. Her poem made sense, the kind of sense that is good for contemplation.  Mine,-fourteen  lines long, not so much, unless we consider it a neo-ghazal, a short poem of couplets that don't necessarily have much to do with each other, other than a certain angst.

Emily's poem was titled "This world is not conclusion."


This poem is not conclusion.
Please don't misunderstand its confusion.
Music beckons beyond sound,
stands invisible beyond species.
Sagacity and philosophy
may be guessed, unlocked through riddles.
Generations gain contempt
as narcotics nibble at their souls.
Faith blushes at twigs of evidence
the way crucifixion asks questions.
From pulpits roll strong hallelujahs,
gesture much, and laugh, and really
pluck, beckon and baffle the whole truth
men didn't know.

Shirley Smith  Franklin,  April 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

NaPoWriMo 2016 Days Two and Four

Day Two suggested a love poem without using the word, love.  Day Four suggested a poem about stars.  Or was it the other way around.  In my continuing effort to 'catch up, ' I'll try to write one combining the two, stars and (oops,need I say  'love'!).

That moment when....

I never saw stars before--
Myopic, preoccupied--
with my nose in a book,
who could--
Until I saw your eyes -
joined in premonition
of you.

                                         --Shirley Smith Franklin 2015 

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's National Poetry Writing Month Again...Catching my breath

Eek, it's already April third! I've hardly finished all I wanted to write about my trip and thoughts to/of India this winter, and already the month of April has me thinking about writing a new poem a day in response to the NaPoWriMo 2015 challenge.  I hope you will indulge (along with) my playing with words, rhymes, responding to this month's challenge to create something akin to poetry every day. Well, almost daily.  With some hope that another entry or two from my/our India trip may pop up in the blog as well.

Here's my attempt to write a 'negation poem' suggested in Day One. (Note: that it appears in print means it is copyright (-ed) by me.)

Who Knows?
the beginning of a be revised
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Who knows the moment of a sunrise?
         not you
         not I
         not anybody
not even a ribbon out of time.

Or who has seen the wind blow?
         not you
         not I
         not anybody
not even the shadow knows.

Who can foretell the ending of time?
         not you
         not I
         not anybody
through doomsayers and prophets have tried.

Who rises up to bell the cat?
         not you
         not I
         not anybody
who fears to stand against the crowd.

Who knows why I should love you?
         not you
         not I
         nor anybody
knows why I love you like I do.
But I do.

Who knows the truth these verses hide?
         not you
         not I
         not anybody
but this fool is beginning to lie.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

You don't say!

Although it's kind of fun surprising or pleasing local folk when I speak in Telugu, I'm often humbled as I continue to learn which expressions are appropriate, and which are not, when, and in which situations.

I remember the hilarity of American friends who'd lived in India for a number of years, when they asked me to demonstrate how much Telugu I'd learned at lessons with the munshi (language pundit who tutored foreigners).  I confidently rubbed my tummy and patted my head while saying "I have a
head ache," and "I have a stomach ache," in that order.

Once I heard a woman addressing a man with the expression 'Emandi,' which appears to mean 'what, sir', which sounded polite enough to me.  But when I used it to a friend at a social gathering, my husband told me, on the way home, not to do that.  It turns out to be a more endearing, however polite, way for a wife to address a husband.  Oops.

Telugu has an honorific, or respectful way of adding '-garu' to their name, while talking to a person of greater age or deserving of deference. Imagine my chagrin when my friend's husband, a doctor, answers my phone call, and I hear myself blurt, "Doctor, this is Shirley-garu."  Oops. Fortunately, we are all friends, and have a good laugh over it.  Thank goodness, laughter is international.

"This year I learn that "ayyo" ('oh-oh,' or 'too bad') is not used as frequently as I've thought, or used, although I've yet to learn the reason, or fine tune its usage.

And so the learning goes on.

I request my Telugu speaking blog readers to give me other suggestions where I and other American English speakers may be missing the boat in the way we (try to ) speak their language, and/or send the link to useful sites for learning more than beginning tourist conversation.

In his book Better!, Atul Gawande suggests that we put as much effort into refining what we have or do, as into inventing something new.  Because we all can do better. I am aiming to become better at speaking and using Telugu.

Ade sangati! ('That's the thing!")

Thursday, February 19, 2015

No Public Displays of Affection

When we were dating, I was surprised to hear my future husband say, "In my country (India), only old people hold hands in public." At the time I thought that was rather odd, if not absolutely sad. Over the years I came to see that it is generally true. While friends commonly hold hands with friends of the same gender, the palms-together 'namasthe' (both 'hello' and 'goodbye,' also known as 'namaskaram' in Telugu) eliminates the need for men and women even to shake hands. Of course, riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, a common whole-family mode of transportation, necessitates holding on. But, as a rule, there should be no public display of affection between genders:  That's right, it's the rule in India; in fact, that's the law.

So what happens to February 14th, that annual invitation to be romantic? Valentine's Day in recent years has brought out demonstrators pro and con. For more on the frenzy brought on by Valentine's Day in India, check out articles and readers' comments on the subject in the Los Angeles times <>
and several related articles printed in the <Hindustan Times> earlier this week.

(Hats off to Arvind Kejriwal, the new Chief Minister of New Delhi (recently trouncing his opposition with a stunning win of fifty seven of the sixty seats available, versus three  for the runner up and a humiliating zero for the rest, including the long-reigning Congress party).  Kejriwal not only promises reform with the support of Aam Admi,' his 'common man's party" ("your average Joe's party," as Wikipedia puts it), but (gasp, and publish it in the headlines) has hugged his wife publicly as he celebrated his victory.)

This, in a country where such 'shows of affection' are taboo. And, unfortunately (a too-understated word), un-punished and often heinous rapes are daily occurrences.  A country, many of whose majority-religion's stories, art and icons are decidedly sensual, even sexual.

A confusing and conflicting milieu indeed.

Meanwhile, for us, decades have passed. Nowadays we find ourselves a pair of tentative older adults, frequently having to make our way over rough ground, uneven sidewalks and thresholds, or through busy crowds, instinctively reaching for each other's hands.  A passerby or two may glance, or offer a helping hand up steps, but (so far) nobody has reported us to the police. For holding hands.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

May I take leave?

We think we have a corner on prolonged-leave-taking, with what we call "a Minnesota Farewell", but some of the departures I've experienced in India take it to a new level.  Our Christian friends there often send us off with a blessing, reading the scripture starting with "Unto the hills I life up mine eyes, from whence cometh my help...," (Psalm 121), before a prayer for traveling mercies..

Hosts insist we stay,when we say we are about to leave.  More food, chai (!), more conversation, more time, maybe even more people, if any have not come home yet, are proffered.  People delight in giving (presenting is the preferable word, here) gifts, either to the host (at the beginning) or to the guest, in which case it may not be proffered until a move to depart has been made.  Then, of course, one must stand (or sit) and talk some more, to be polite.

Another reason departure may be delayed, even though we are done-done and heading out the door, is an unexpected delay for virtually any reason.  Though I've never asked, (should I?  would you?) there seems to be a taboo related to interrupting a departure, exceptions being things  mentioned in the last paragraph.  But, having forgotten something, having to go back into the house for any reason,  and we find ourselves talking and waiting some more time...I don't know, maybe it's just taking the precaution of stopping to think whether we have everything and are really ready to go?  It might not make the situation appear very different from the "Minnesota Farewell," but, for some reason, this particular 'phase' of farewelling is more pronounced, here in India.

Until we beg off with a traditional, "May I take leave now?" which is used in both casual and polite conversations.  I personally think it's a polite version of "Okay, enough now, I really have to go."       The polite host will wind up the conversation and move with the visitor to the door, enquiring (if they haven't done so before),what means we have for a ride home: bicycle, auto rickshaw, taxi, car.  If they have the time and means, they may insist on seeing us home, or if we are  taking an auto rickshaw or taxi, on calling the vehicle themselves.

It is still traditional for hosts to accompany us to the railway station, even purchasing a 'platform ticket,' and waiting with us until ( or to ensure that) the train arrives, and seeing us and our luggage settled into our assigned compartment.  Although passengers' names, ages and seat assignments are posted on the side of the train car, there are might be last minute riders or those hopeful of an upgrade, sitting in our seats or occupying our berths.  The conductor, of course, has the list and the last word.

In any case, the traditional Telugu word for good bye is "vellirandi, or vellandi," a compound word meaning, literally, "go and come back"  (akin to the Minnesota 'come again'). It is distinct from "po," another word for "go" which could be understood as dismissive, insulting, or 'talking down,' depending on the situation. To :"vellirandi," the response is, "Vell'asthanu,"  "I'll return," accompanied by that typical waggle of the head that indicates agreement.

Or, to say it even more politely, graciously, with the aformentioned ending that indicates respect and politeness: 'andi,' which can handily be added to any sentence.  Until we finally just have to go.

May I take leave now?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Year Modulations

The familiar morning street sounds of Brodipet (our neighborhood in Guntur) are changing with the times.  While I am still reminded of that sweet street reprise "Who will buy this beautiful morning?" from the movie "Oliver," there are fewer itinerant sellers in the morning, and their cries seem farther away from our fourth floor apartment.

After electrified water pumps grind out each dwelling's daily store of city water between the hours of three and four or five (a wake up call for early risers), there is a bustle of activity as early hour workers set out for their jobs or school children for their tutors, people or their cooks hurry to shops or the vegetable bazaar for the day's provisions, and bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and cars, each with their individualistic bells, buzzers, and back-up-signal tunes knit their ways through the relatively silent steps of walkers.

The former salt vender's strangled cry of "Oopoooo! Oopoooo! is missing this year. But there's the seasonal fruit seller's cry "Aww-ren-ges! Aww-ren-ges,  naa-rin-ji, kamalaa-looooo..." And another cry is made new: instead of calling live from his hand cart, an independent recycler broadcasts his  recorded cry. with a list appended, through a loudspeaker mounted on his mini-truck: "Everybody come, bring your old stuff, useless pots and pans, old papers and books, notebooks and prayer books, lamps, broken furniture, everything you don't need, bring me your old stuff."

The call to prayer is still there at its appointed intervals, but this year there seem to be more of them than before.  I can hear at least four calls, starting in overlapping turns as night turns into day.  During the Christmas holidays, the call seemed different than usual, or perhaps it was from another source But I listened carefully: the tune was so sweet (and why wouldn't it be, considering the text of  "Sweet Hour of Prayer."), I wanted to memorize it:  mi so - fa - mi- re - do - , repeated, followed by a sort of 'arabesque' winding around those notes. After awhile it began to sound like a very calm version of one of the tunes for "The King of Love My Shepherd Is."  Indeed.  A call to prayer.  It's a beautiful new morning, the world is alive, toss out what is worn and weary, pause for prayer.  And be thankful.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brushing up on the Telugu language

Given our uniqueness as individual human beings, it's a wonder that any two persons understand each other, even when they think they are using the same language.  Still, I love language and words, new words, old words, written, spoken, flashed on a screen, loudspoken (well, maybe not so much) and quiet words.  So

I have, over the years since I had a few month's tutoring during a teaching stint in India, tried to advance my knowledge of the Telugu language, the third largest native language (spoken by about eight percent) of the Indian population, a language which is commonly spoken in Andhra Pradesh, and by about sixty nine million people, worldwide.

Every year I would learn a few more Telugu words, but, unable to follow the speed, vocabulary, and nuances, I would, just as often as not, tune out of extended conversations among family or in friendly gatherings. If I interrupted to ask for help, conversations got bogged down.  If I didn't, I lost my way in the conversation. I never got to the point of thinking in Telugu, and tuning out left me ill prepared to re-join the conversation even when it intermingled more English with the Telugu, and/or veered to topics of keen interest.  Early on, I especially appreciated my friends Rani, Lakshmi and Sundari for their alertness and kindness toward my need for survival in conversational situations, and later Sri Devi gave me a season of dedicated practice.  My husband abstained, though he somehow expected me to remember the content of Telugu language conversations at which I was physically present but, unfortunately, mentally 'absent.'  Not a good practice.

When a correspondence course began at a Potti Sriramulu Telugu University in India, I signed up with great eagerness, and not a little effort, gallantly assisted by my husband's cousin Vijay, but to no avail.  The lessons were slapped together any old which way, and I couldn't make heads or tails of anything beyond memory lists: my waterloo.  The unfinished pages languish on a shelf to this day.

Meanwhile, family conversations, friends in U.S. and India, a Telugu Christian Fellowship, hymns, and sub-titled movies continued to give me sounds and words with greater and greater clarity.  After several years of interacting with the household staff, auto-rickshaw drivers, relatives and friends, on our annual post-retirement treks to the home country, my puny efforts became more purposeful, my sentences more complete.  I read and listened and practiced with every opportunity.  Though movies aren't supposed to be that helpful in learning a new language, I watched Telugu movies until I could write the typical ill-fated-love, graphic-violence, class-clashfamily drama (in English) myself. Children's book publishing came of age in India, and I devoured elementary stories that I could understand. What would this year's travel to India reveal about my progress?

Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My God, You Speak Telugu?!

With only intermittent opportunities to learn and practice Telugu over the years since my first lessons with a tutor in the 1960's, I am pleasantly surprised to find myself able to speak solely in Telugu, going with the flow in  my clumsy best, within the first few weeks of this year's trip to India. It's a relief, after years of straining to keep up in a conversation, only to find myself taking a 'concentration break' and missing something addressed directly to me.

Telugu is the language of the people of Andhra Pradesh as well as of Telangana, a new state sliced away from Andhra after years of protests and demonstrations. Even though foreigners visit these regions, few if any have mastered the language beyond the traveler's minimum essential vocabulary, not to mention the nuances of Telugu pronunciation. So there are often gazes and/or comments of amazement, not only that this white lady speaks the language, but that she can make herself understood.

Whiling away the time in a large Hyderabad store while my family finished their business, I came to the attention of a supervisor who sent a very young clerk to wait on me,  The young man seemed hesitant at the prospect of communicating with me. When I assured him, in Telugu, that I was only looking, he moved closer, and we struck up an easy conversation, beginning with the by now familiar, "How is it that you know how to speak Telugu?"

His slightly older colleagues a few counters away jibed, in Telugu, "Array (hey), 'you having a nice time talking with the American lady?" to which he replied with cautious alarm, "Hush, she speaks Telugu!"  "

"Yeah, right," they shot back.

"No, really, she is speaking Telugu!" and in sotto voce to me, "Don't mind them, Madam, they don't know anything..."

Our short conversation ended there; only the young clerk and I knew why we were grinning as we parted, saying,  "Namasthe."

My speaking advantage is having been brought up in the company of speakers of Finnish; the language of my mother's immigrant parents. Regrettably, I never learned to speak Finnish, but its sounds are familiar as nursery rhymes, its rhythms written on my heart. From time to time a memory surfaces of my grandmother's voice, calling me for 'supper,' or 'buttermilk' (still a favorite!)  In any case, linguists have pointed out the amazing and still unaccounted-for fact of distinct similarities in the pronunciation and organization of the Finnish and Telugu languages.

Though my Telugu vocabulary is still pretty slender, years as a teacher of first graders gave me good practice in conveying more meaning with fewer and simpler words. It is also helpful that everyday Telugu is like a vocal version of texting, the verb 'to be' omitted from its proper place at the end of the word at the end of the sentence,  multiple words combined into one in a sort of elision, and sentences collapsed when one word, or even a slight nod of the head will do. Less is more.

Another comment I frequently encounter, however, is that I tend to use the full, correct form, unlike everyday casual parlance.

(Last year in a Minneapolis Indian grocery store, I overheard a young, evidently Telugu, couple discussing the pros and cons of purchasing a certain Western vegetable.  Eager to be the hospitable American, I made what I hoped was a helpful comment in what I thought was pretty clear Telugu. This young man replied with a not uncommon Indian male dismissiveness, "You can't understand us, we're speaking in our language." I didn't correct him, but thought better of it, and shopped on.
Touche' for him, or for me?)

After relishing Telugu conversation more freely on this year's trip, I revisited some of the Telugu lessons abandoned several years ago.  PTL, now they make sense! 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Ride to Rajupalem

It's the day before New Year's Eve when we drive out for a visit to the PUSHPA center in Rajupalem. Morning rush hour has passed, but streets are still busy as we make our way through town and nearby suburbs that were separate towns when I came here back in the sixties.  There are small shops and homes of every description, and as urban areas give way to rural. We pass several multi-story cold storage buildings near Reddygudem, and, periodically, graduate schools on rural campuses, set back from the road. Perhaps these places shelter produce from this area, the chilly capital of the world, or the next Nobel prize winner in pharmacy or engineering. 

Bordering the road between the towns through which we pass, are dishevelled borders of large thorn bushes punctuated by trees, among which old "Flame of the Forest" trees are the most graceful, flinging branches out on either side to form an umbrella of leaves over field and road.  (This is a file photo of a younger tree in summer. Now, in winter, there is only a thick green canopy of leaves.DSCF2942.jpg - Flamboyan Tree 
(AKA:Fire Tree, Flame of the Forest, Fountain Tree, African Tulip Tree)

Raghava tells us that little boys use the tree's showy flowers for pretend cock fights, which are a popular (males) spectator and betting sport of this, the harvest season.  Although its practice has been banned, we see pictures and articles of cock fights, even some with knives attached to the birds' legs, in the newspaper.
Cock fighting in India
Here and there we slow for 'brake inspectors,' (small groups of water buffalo) or for larger groups of slender, dark brown sheep and goats, tassels of fur jiggling under their chins in counter-rhythm  to their bouncing gait. Their shepherd succeeds somewhat in keeping them moving in a forward direction.  But now and then their numbers flow across the road and we slow in amiable counterpoint to their bobbly rhythm.

The ragpickers' tiny roadside community in Porrapadu shows progress:  Their makeshift huts of  discarded plastic sheeting are neater, stitched together more securely, and arranged in a semblance of rows.  One of the last huts we pass has a shaded "porch," where two woman feed a treadle
sewing machine a diet of the huge blue sheets with a purposefulness worthy of a LWR  quilting group.. A few women sit right on the roadside, sorting what one of them has brought home for consideration. This little community definitely shows a unity of purpose!

Impatient cars and even trucks ("lorries")  weave in and out of the traffic, often driving with impunity into the face of oncoming traffic, with nary a doubt that each bus, car, or auto-rickshaw will return to its own lane in good time. They usually do, although later today, on the wrong side of the road, we will find a broken down truck leaking its bounty of overstuffed gunny bags of freshly picked cotton, goods intended for one of the area's huge cotton ginning mills.  Cotton is the second biggest agro-product of this area.

After an hour and a half, and past our former, rented quarters with another ngo in Rajupalem, we turn off on a tiny dirt road, little more than a path, into the neighborhood of PUSHPA's 'own' rented quarters, a modest house housing our Rajupalem office and sewing center.  A staff member living in the house and the sewing teacher hurry, smiling, down the narrow stairway nestled against the compound wall.  We reciprocate their warm greetings, and grasp hands helping us over uneven ground and up the precarious steps, and enter to a welcoming committee of sewing students about to graduate from their six month course. They are bashful until tea, the conversational prerequisite of  a few matter-of-course questions, and a look at their sample work, after which one of the group initiates a banter among them that broadens to include me (husband and a few men set to work with a discussion group on the front patio) until, one-by-one, they slip away to lunch.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Moving Forward

Guntur is definitely a city on the move.  Everywhere, everywhere, construction, remodeling, and road widening advance......Narrow lanes are narrowed further by tiny patches of broken earth between compound (courtyard) walls and, in some lanes, archaic open drainage ditches await the street widening. Indeed, streets are paved or concretized in most of the town, and the drainage ditches are being replaced by underground pipes, as they already have been, in our neighborhood. A plethora of tiny shops old and new are interspersed with large, shiny new shops, some of whose names you would recognize (United Colors of Benetton, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dominoes), others of local and regional Telugu and English creation. A multi storied multi-specialty hospital is overshadows the sleepy compound where, in contrast, Drs. Patricia and Samson are painstakingly growing a simple grass roots inner city hospital.

Our street resounds with the sound of pounding on concrete, iron, stone and wood.  Buildings are of concrete, stone, and tile, in a country where trees are few and precious.  Despite advanced techniques and materials, much of the local work is painstakingly done by hand, with rudimentary tools.  Rods are beent by hand and/or pounded into shape with simple hammers..

Near our apartment, concrete finishers sit and walk along bamboo scaffolding of a four story building project, somewhat shaded from the noonday sun by huge, tattered plastic bags that puff and blow about in the wind. Here and there a team of men and women relay open-pan head-loads of cement, sand, or stones from curbside piles into building sites. Small cement mixers turn out the stuff in small doses.  Miniature (Piaggio) to medium sized trucks ply the roads, delivering everything from take-out food to onions, from paper products to boxes of a variety of world class and/or made in China goods. Once in awhile a larger truck rumbles an ocean-going container along.The sounds of trucks and the unloading of materials might be heard until midnight or even later. Then night is very quiet until the usual daily sounds announce the early morning.

Our apartment building's generator has been commandeered for post-storm-damage recovery at Vishakhapatnam, an important university, port and ship/submarine building center several hours away, on the Bay of Bengal. So, when we lose city power (mercifully, only twice this month, for short periods), my husband braves the stairs. But I stay put in our fourth floor apartment, musing and hoping for a return of computer access to record my observations here.

In the relative quiet of a holiday morning (even the door-to-door vendors are silent) when, like people everywhere, those who can are sleeping in, I take my camera to the laundry veranda...a common feature in Indian apartments, new and capture how the neighborhood looks from four floors up.  In this part of our block, only three single family homes , now surrounded by four and five floor apartments, remain.  Once charming middle class homes, freshly whitewashed every year, and surrounded by dusty palm and fruit trees, they languish dingily until their owners decide how and when to modernize, demolish, and/or build.  The trees are few, that remain to freshen the dwindling air supply.

But building goes on all around, all around, construction goes on all around.