Indian Cow

India, 24 Sept 2012

Good morning everyone from New Delhi where it is around 36 degrees and sunny.

Evenings are warm and gentle with the guards mostly quietly sitting around in their clusters all along our street happily playing cards and drinking cups of chai freshly made for them by the chai wala down the street.  As we pass they lift their heads, nod in recognition, smile, greet us and return to their game.  It is like this every day… the same smiling faces treating us with respect and watching that the inevitable stray dogs keep away from us as we pass by on foot, watching that they are safe from us and we are safe from all strangers.

As we walk all manner of bicycle adaptations pass by weaving through the parked cars and potholes calling “hare hare” to encourage sales of the products piled high behind them.  Others collect piles of recycling for sale.  By night many of the faces change, the numbers increase, dogs bark periodically including the two huge guard dogs at the base of our building and from time to time whistles sound as guards pass messages to one another about people who may venture on and off the gated estate.  On each of the balconies of the houses pigeons roost and coo. By evening the baby dragons, as Liam calls them (ghekko) crawl across the kitchen window, usually only one each evening.

As I type this I have just been to school with Barry and our chauffeur Anand, collected Liam, played with him in the school playground and eaten the chocolate crackle cake he made for me at nursery this morning. Last week I visited his class at The British School, met his teacher and the teaching assistants and had a lovely time with them looking at their classroom and discussing how they do things.  

They are studying food at the moment so each day I come his teacher calls “Mr Liam, Grandma is here,” then she hands me the special treat Liam has cooked for me. The British curriculum is followed in the school and in a beautiful way with an Indian twist. I enjoy our daily routine of school pick- up, something I did not get to do with my own children as they attended the school where I taught. Now home, as I type I hear the sounds of our maid Shamila turning our home into a palace for us and Liam calling me to once again play football.  In India this is how we live.

Now that the monsoon has mostly passed the trees are lush and green and a huge jacaranda tree shares its beautiful mauve flowers with me each time I glance from the balcony of my bedroom.  It never ceases to amaze me how huge and glossy the leaves are at this time of year; dark green and shining and some sporting enormous and exotic flowers.  

Having seen the same trees in winter covered in dust and straining for air and moisture one wonders how the monsoon could make such an extraordinary difference in such a short time.  But this is India, an India where when the torrential rain strikes as it did on our trip back from Rajasthan on Sunday. People come out in their hoards on foot and on motorcycles weaving through the traffic, drenched to the bone, no raincoats used, laughing and chatting as the rain continued to team down.

Sometimes two adults and up to 3  children on a small motorcycle out enjoying the monsoon together.  Everywhere the brightly coloured saris of the women on the back of the bikes brightens the brown muddied waters that flow quite deeply everywhere.  The road, broken up in many places, has huge barriers that drivers weave through in huge numbers tooting horns to vie for position. At many junctions it was like driving through fords of long ago NZ.

I so admired my daughter as she chose carefully the vehicles to follow to allow us to gauge the depth of those swiftly flowing waters to bring us safely home after all the hours of drivng needed to get us back to Delhi, using the all the Indian driving conventions to ensure we could take our rightful place in each queue.  That in itself is a real art!!! We were not to guess these conditions having driven down to Neemrana in Rajasthan in brilliant sunshine and traffic jams just the day before! Everywhere we travelled people glanced at us, then suddenly looked back, followed by long stares….  It appeared we were the only Europeans on that road and certainly the only vehicle with a white  woman driver!  People appeared to be fascinated with my skilful daughter!

Although very short, that trip was well worth it, allowing me to glimpse a variety of aspects of Indian rural life which I found fascinating, to drive through herds of horned cows and weave through roadside shanties, shops, dogs, children, beggars, camels, donkeys and carts to catch a glimpse of the most magnificent Fort Palace climbing a full hillside gleaming and brick red in the sunlight and oozing the wealth of the few from former generations.

Such a contrast of wealth and culture!  Down below in the valley the persistent call to prayer from muezzin hollered out from loudspeakers never ceasing day or night. That magnificent palace was to be our home for the weekend! A chance for us to experience, albeit for a short time, what it would be like to live as an ancient Indian prince or princess. If you would like to see it Google Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel Rajasthan.  

On our way back at the sides of the road camels trudged laden with their loads, mules, donkeys and thousands of brightly coloured trucks hooted to one another and to other motorists as they jammed the highway, dodging floodwaters and helping each other as inevitably people got stuck.  On an eight lane highway, with a central island at the four lane mark, often reduced to just part of one lane with floodwater or roadworks, in each direction we struck herders herding hundreds of Brahma cattle.  Women accompanied the herds carrying huge bundles of grass on their heads for the cattle, some cattle were decorated with coloured beads and each herd headed by a sole herder turbaned, sandalled feet and wearing a loose whitish cotton shirt and longhi.  Others followed behind chasing any erring stock with carefully placed hands or sticks.

Neemrana Fort Palace is what is known as a non-hotel hotel.  These are heritage buildings that have been converted  to hotels to preserve them. We stayed right at the top, with huge golden monkeys entertaining Liam from above when we woke in the morning.  Liam loved being here but was unwell for all of the visit. He had travelled well and enjoyed the trip but we had not long arrived when once again he relapsed. It didn’t  stop his fascination for all he saw or from enjoying the entertainers who charmed us with music, dance and their feats with fire.

He was less enthusiastic as a dancer stood behind us with a large tray covering us with hundreds of frangipani petals as we accompanied by traditional music instruments from his little band but later asked Genevieve to come up with him to join a chain of dancers who moved like a conga around the room. He was also fascinated with the male dancer who dressed as a peacock danced among us then posed for photographs. Throughout our visit we could hear real peacocks calling well into the night near the base of the fort, making it real for him.

As the entertainers performed I was grateful for and enjoyed the starter of chopped vegetables laced with fresh onion and covered in tiny spicy Indian crackers and sipped my lemon soda designed to rehydrate me after the long hot sunny day.  Some others around us were more reluctant to try the delicious Indian treats.  I loved it, but took care to eat within boundaries of common sense.  

We followed the other  guests into the magnificent dining room and enjoyed a dinner of Indian treats interspersed with supporting and tending to Liam as once again the sickness took hold of his little body, his frustration apparent to all.  Liam loved the palace and so badly wanted to explore it! We had to work within compromises to allow this to happen and to keep close to much needed toilets. For Genevieve especially this was a long and busy day…

The hotel had two beautiful pools.  Liam loves to swim but this was not to be for us this time as Liam’s stomach again and again reminded us of how precious this little man is to us all. Between his bouts of illness he played with his cars, football and trains and loved climbing all the marble steps to different levels within our hotel apartment. Later in the evening  we were about to climb down the hundreds of steps that took us down to the amphitheatre and beyond and nearby to the  car park to view the magnificence of the palace when lit up at night.  

Liam loved all the lights!  Genevieve and I set our cameras to catch the magic of the beautifully lit palace and capture the happiness we had as a family on that lovely balmy evening.  This was the week of Genevieve’s birthday so we had driven down to celebrate.

Liam, of course, has been the reason for my visit to India; a visit that has been hard to describe because his condition has fluctuated so much from day to day. During this time we have done all we can to show him love, keep him occupied and stimulated and to try to find any kind of food he will try and that will actually stay in his body!  An illness that has severely tested his stomach and been challenging for us all for several months.

During the time I have been here Liam has also had a battery of tests.  Together with the tests that have now arrived from Singapore everything has been sent to the doctor and Genevieve and Barry were planning to have a meeting with her this week to find out what it all means for them and for Liam.  It looks as though the original diagnoses of cholera may well have been wrong.  In the meantime we have tried some  dietary changes I have suggested, together with the foods  Liam is asking for himself and the diarrhoea, at least for the last two days has subsided. In the meantime Liam is back at school and is playing with us a lot. It is wonderful to once again hear his laughter echo through the marble of our home.   

I am getting quite good at a range of games and sports for an active three year old!!!  I have also been pleased to have had some recent nursery teaching experience as I have been able to follow up with him the work he is doing at school, compensating or the days we have been forced to keep him home, sometimes for health reasons and also when advised to do so when the strikes occurred in the area where his school is located and once when the school contacted us to say they were closing as a threat had been made against the US embassy nearby. So much happening in such a short time.

With my IPad, dinosaurs quickly bought from the local toy shop which Liam loves, games, balloons,  soft footballs, songs and general body strength building activities we have managed to keep this little man happy and less focussed on his stomach.   Barry and Gene teach him lots too and while this has been happening we have been seeing him apparently getting stronger. There is still some way to go as even minor change of routine so far has meant we start back at square one so we have had to be very careful about choices we make.  

In the meantime we have a little boy who loves to go out and be active so is asking to do lots of things. We have worked hard to find a balance and this seems to be paying off.  While writing this letter Barry has just come in to tell me that the doctor has just rung Genevieve to say the reason Liam used to get lots of colds etc in Amsterdam and why he caught this dreadful bug in Spain then Delhi and Singapore is that he has a weakened immune system.  

The bug has left him deficient in a range of vital nutrients including iron and potassium amongst others which will now need to be rebuilt. She has increased the frequency of his prebiotics and we are to continue with the wheat free and lactose free feeding we introduced to protect his stomach as this seems to help him make progress every day.  We are now seeing a more active child and certainly a much happier one!  

We were delighted to hear he is not celiac and less happy to hear it could take at least another four weeks before he is fully recovered.  In the meantime his laughter,enthusiasm and increased activity are like a piece of heaven. For me this trip has been well worth it and all too soon I shall be jetting my way back to the UK and my own usual routines.

Yesterday we went shopping in the malls of Gurgaon, a first for me and quite a change from the shanti style of shopping we usually do here in Delhi. There are over 25 different mall complexes side by side in central Gurgaon.  We visited just two on this occasion.  Liam played in a little soft play area in one of them for an hour  with Genevieve.  Barry and I became engrossed in a wonderful book shop while we waited for them.  For lunch  we had a selection selection of trays with South Indian treats.  Genevieve was keen for me to try this style of food as for two days this week this will be how she eats while on business at Chennai.

We were in a large Indian food hall at the time. Some I managed, others were a little too spicy but I particularly enjoyed  the rice with yoghurt and cardammon used to calm digestion after the meal and the interetsting selection of Indian breads and dips.  This week I have shopped at Indian supermarkets with a very good range of interesting foodstuffs on offer, many of which I have never seen before.  I saw huge barrels of rice, never realising how much variety there is for rice.  We see so little of this in the West. The spice, dried fruit and nut sections were also fascinating.  The more I see the more I love India!

For some it is a harsh existence, but as long as you have some money it is also a wonderful, varied, happy and colourful place. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to have experienced these wonderful things and to meet the wonderful people I have met. Today at school I sat on a little bench and talked to a woman whose husband is a diplomat at the Kuwait embassy about her experiences of living in Japan, then India while our children played happily in the sun. Each evening at bedtime I have buried myself in Dave Rager’s book Delirious Delhi which has helped me to appreciate so much more the opportunities around me here. Once finished Barry has bought me behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo which is also recommends as being true of life here.  I do so love it when books come to life!

On Saturday, for Genevieve’s birthday we opened gifts at home then headed for lunch at the Leela Kempinsky Hotel in Delhi in the Qube restaurant.  It was the most magnificent smorgasbord I have ever seen and I have had some beautiful ones in a number of countries in the past.  We dropped off the car to the valets followed by a young woman who was delivered in her silks in a brand new shiny Rolls Royce.

The staff in clean fresh cream tunics and deep maroon turbans bowed and treated us as royalty as we were escorted through the various rooms and corridors with huge carved dressers made in solid silver and, magnificent chandeliers until we were delivered to The Qube which has floor to ceiling windows opening out onto a magnificent water lily garden.  The food was wonderful.  Liam was a little reluctant at first but soon joined us, selecting foods he would like to try and would be able to eat. Incredible lamps that rippled with subtle colour changes hung in clusters from the ceiling. We kept pinching ourselves that it was really us in this magnificent place!

In contrast, here every day brings new experiences and challenges.  The other day amongst our many power cuts followed by the generator kicking in there was a large explosion followed by smoke in the living room and Barry’s expensive amplifier blew up while workmen were testing power outside.  Today we have come home to a workman smashing down sections of wall and exposing the most horrific looking electrical cables I have seen in walls in every floor of the stairwell in the building. This crashing and banging is going on as I write and while he works all our electricity is still on!  Not sure what is protection he has as his hammer smashes down  each section of wall!!!!  This after all is India  and also what makes the place kind of magic, at least to me anyway.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?