Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monkey Business, Part 2

We've been having some issues again at ATS Village with "invading" monkeys. I think it's the same bunch who have taken a liking to Towers 10 and 11 (ours is Tower 10). These marauding monkeys can be quite dangerous. One recently entered a nearby apartment, ransacked the refrigerator (that's the first place they go once inside your flat) and attacked a guard before being chased away! The ATS management has hired another monkey-handler to "patrol" the grounds. Different for a large Langur (see "Commando Monkey," Relee-India, Feb 2009) who was used earlier in the year - these fellows are the more common Rhesus Monkey. Supposedly the "domesticated" monkeys dislike wild ones and will chase them away...
I think our little monkey-patrol was bored the other day so the trio put on an impromptu show for the residents of ATS. Using a little tambourine to call us down, the Monkey-handler had his troupe perform some tricks...One monkey sat on a large can, used a walking stick, and then nodded/shook his head to questions. The other "played dead" and rolled over. A bit humiliating.In the end, the poor little guys were dressed up in sunglasses and hats as their performance finale! Lesa and I enjoyed the show, but I'll believe it when I see that these two monkeys can actually scare away their marauding, balcony-hopping brethren....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

English with a Hindi Accent?

Early on, Evan had difficulty communicating with his local schoolmates - especially in Class I where most of the children primarily spoke Hindi. The other kids and Indian adults had difficulty understanding his American accent and he became very self-conscious.

I think his early solution to this anxiety was to just stay very, very quiet at school. He became an observer rather than a speaker. Evan has never been very out-going, but this increased reticence worried us about his ability to adapt to his new social environment.

Much of our concern has evaporated over the past months. An incident this weekend confirmed this... Evan had a play-date with his good friend and classmate, Pulkesh. It was just the three of us at the apartment. Lesa and Audrey were out shopping with a friend in Delhi. We went swimming in the pool and later, the boys had fun playing with Star Wars figures in Evan's room.

That's when I observed the change. Evan would speak in his normal voice to me, but when he spoke to Pulkesh, his voice and accent completely changed. He was speaking with a thick North Indian accent to Pulkesh... Indian-English. I had to do a double take to see who was speaking. Audrey has used an Indian accent on occasion for some time, but not to this extent. Evan was doing what a Speech Pathologist calls "language code switching."

Evan (the observer) figured out the easiest way to connect with his Indian schoolmates was to mimic their speech. And I have to say, it seems to work. Pulkesh didn't seem to notice or acknowledge Evan was switching his speech. And Pulkesh was clearly understanding what Evan was saying! It didn't affect their play together in anyway. The boys were just having fun.

Lesa and I still worry about Evan a bit, but less now that we have both seen this new "India" version of him emerge. Kids are far more adaptable than their parents ever will be!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two Unexpected Encounters

There are very few Land Rovers in India. I have only seen one in our nine months here so far. This is a fact that is a little annoying to me, since many of you know I really like old Land Rovers. Mine (1963 Series IIA) is being baby-sat by a good friend back in Austin.
It came as a huge surprise that one was parked in the driveway of our Hotel in Mussoorie this past weekend. We had just returned from a walk into town and there it was - a late model Defender 110 with Denmark plates. Denmark? I had a chance to speak with the owner/driver. He and his wife are driving across Asia... 20,000 kilometers so far from Denmark to Mussoorie, India. Apparently Land Rover has been helping their adventure with some spare parts. His only major mishap so far was breaking down in Pakistan. Fortunately, the Pak army uses LR Defenders in their Armed Forces so the couple was able to make repairs without much delay.

A second chance meeting came through a local bookstore in Mussoorie. Before we traveled up to this hill station, it had been one of my hopes to maybe meet the Indian author, Ruskin Bond. He's a prolific writer, and happens to live near Mussoorie. Two of his more famous novels include "The Room on the Roof," and "Delhi is Not Far."
While we were poking around a small street side bookshop (an opportunity to get out of the misty, Mussoorie weather) Lesa spotted a poster of Ruskin Bond. He is apparently friends with the shop owner - and comes faithfully every Saturday (4pm-6pm) to sign books, and chat with readers. Both of us were excited - we bought one of his novels and a collection of children's stories and told the shopkeeper we would return the next day to meet Mr. Bond.
We arrived at the bookshop at 5:30 the next day from an afternoon of sight-seeing. We were afraid we might have missed our opportunity to meet this local legend. The shopkeeper recognized us right away: "I told Rusty you'd be coming. He's waited even though he's not feeling himself today."
And there he was. Very gracious and charming. We apologized for being late from our sightseeing trip and he asked us where we'd been - Mr. Bond has lived in this area most of his 75 years - He seemed genuinely interested and was willing to take some time with us. He shared his thoughts on how things have changed in and around Mussoorie. The author told us he lives about an hour's walk outside of town and when the weather is pleasant his still enjoys the stroll from his village into Mussoorie. What an honor and a treat to meet him in person!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


We finally made a trip to one of the many hill stations in the Himalayan foothills. Mussoorie is a regional town sitting at about 6,000 ft above sea level. It is about 5 hours away by train (Dehradun) and then another hour by taxi up into the mountains. Our friends, Nicki, Jennifer and her 2 children, Artie and Mazzy made the trip with us.
When we arrived in Dehradun our group hired two cabs to take us up into the mountains and our hotel in Mussoorie. This was definitely a treat, because we all got to ride in "Ambassadors" up the mountain roads. The Ambassador is a very old design - the original Indian "Luxury" automobile. Now they are mainly used by government officials and taxi companies. There are hundreds of Ambassadors in Dehradun and Mussoorie.
The town of Mussoorie is situated on a winding ridge that overlooks the valley below. There is an increase of maybe 4,000 feet from Dehradun (in the valley) up to Mussoorie. As you increase in altitude you begin to see fir trees for the first time and the air becomes clean and cool.We often found ourselves wearing jackets and looking out above the clouds. We walked narrow village streets shrouded in thick mist. Our hotel was in an old summer-estate originally owned by a former Mugal prince. We ate some wonderful Tibetan food (common in the hill stations) and our visitors enjoyed poking around in the local shops. Sellers on the street roast fresh popcorn and sell hand woven clothing, Himalayan crafts and, oddly, magic kits - a strange phenomenon Mussoorie is known for... Because much of the town was laid out by the British during the Raj, some of the streets look rather English, lined with flowers and trimmed with wrought-iron.
We definitely will be exploring more of these lovely hill stations in the future - as with so much of India, each place we go has its own unique beauty and personality.