Monday, June 4, 2012

Searching For The Elephant

It's been a great ride, but now it's time to move on to new pastures... So to all of the faithful readers and followers of Swimming In India... thanks so much for your comments, feedback and patience over the past 3.5 years. I've enjoyed every minute of it!

Check out the continuing adventures and observations from our humble American family in Austin, Texas.  Please join us on...  Searching For The Elephant.

All the best!    -- HouseBoy.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Last Ride

Audrey and Lesa had a great last riding lesson this past Sunday morning at the Delhi Riding Club...
Although it was hot and dusty, the "sir" gave them both extra pointers for riding with one hand and gave them each a few extra laps of cantering.
 Ms. Beeru, the club's proprietor, was in her glory, shouting orders at the stable boys and sharing her many stories with Evan and me while we sipped our pipping-hot glasses of sweet, milk chai.
It was a such a pleasant morning to cap off the last two years of riding lessons in that quiet grove of trees behind the huge, 18th Century Safdarjung tomb.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Audrey in the Studio

Audrey had her first big gig as a voice-over artist this afternoon. She recorded several takes for the introductory and concluding narration of our short documentary, "Champa Mera Sathi."
Her voice will be a part of the North American version of the film. Audrey got to record in the sound-proof studio, and work with the sound team at Mahatta Media Studios:
Sound Engineer Nittin, Lead Sound Engineer Swapan, and my Recording Manager & good friend, Prachi. Here's a BIG "thank you" to the Mahatta staff for all of their help and professionalism! It was a nice opportunity for Audrey... She had a lot of fun today!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Home Delivery

Thought I'd share how our kitchen gas has been delivered to us for the past three and a half years. Door to door service for compressed natural gas (CNG). We have two of these: one stored under our kitchen counter and a spare kept out on the back balcony.
 Of course with the addition of piped natural gas, these cylinders will be a thing of the past. Can you imagine the weight of one of these bicycles when they are fully loaded? No doubt these delivery guys have very strong legs!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Attack of the 100 ft Hanuman

Karol Bagh is a crowded marketplace in North Delhi. It's mostly known for the repair of mobile phones and for "cracking" US purchased iPhones. It is one of those a great places to explore once you have become a bit more comfortable with the characteristics of life in urban India. I had to make a trip up to Karol Bagh last week to have a replacement battery installed in Evan's first-Generation iPod Touch. The trip was a success, and relatively uneventful - not the first time I'd been up there. But this time I thought I'd share one of my favorite scenes along the the way to that part of Delhi - the giant statue of Hanuman.

For those not in the know - Hanuman is really the original superhero.  His story dates back thousands of years. Without going into much detail, Hindu's believe him to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu - half human, half monkey. He is strong (known for lifting entire mountains), has the ability to fly and has a huge mace to smite his enemies with. Vishnu fights for the little guy - and despises cheats and thieves. He is a very inspiring character. The tales of Hanuman's exploits are filled with heroism and bravery...

But to see Hanuman standing in all his glory beside a highway flyover in North Delhi - I've got to say, this pretty much takes your breath away - especially when you're not expecting him to be standing there, towering over you. To give you an idea of the size of this particular statue - Hanuman's mace could probably reach from the ground to our second story balcony.

He's a big boy...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Home Improvements?

I had to share these images... our landlords have provided us with several modern conveniences to modernize our lifestyle here in India. The execution of these improvements? ...well, I'll let you decide.
First up - additional power plugs in the kitchen. We have three countertop plugs instead of two. Nice.

Second - this is a big one - piped gas. This will replace our use of CNG cylinders. Perhaps you'd forgotten that we cook with what is essentially a camp stove with a propane tank stowed under the counter? Of course, the new meter was very stylishly placed above the counter top against our lovely tiled back-splash and granite counter-top. The meter installation caused us to lose one of our normal kitchen plugs (hence the lovely new plugs shown above) because it was too close to the new gas line.
Always thinking about our safety. I did ask the required question: "Why didn't you just place the meter under the counter?" The response was a pleasant smile and head waggle.

Third - We now have a new security camera/intercom/automatic door release system to replace the old one that hasn't worked for the last four months.  This is actually great - we live on the third floor (second if you're from India). Access to the outside is through a large door at ground level with an electric lock. If a visitor comes they can ring our flat from the street. The camera and intercom turn on and, voila, we can let them enter by releasing the door-latch with a remote button. The monitor is nice - widescreen and in full color. Again, though, it was the execution of the plan that seemed to get in the way.

Please note the power plug mysteriously wired to the water pump switch. Water pump switch you ask? Another wonderful gadget  - the main tank on the roof doesn't refill automatically. When there is no water for a morning shower we must turn on the switch to fill the tank. Then, of course I forget to switch it off and the neighbor's staff come and yell at me when the tank overflows... as if I somehow know the tank is full.

Interior home aesthetics reign supreme.  I did ask the four guys that installed this mess if someone might be coming to repaint:
Smile, head-waggle, "Ha, ha" (Yes, yes).... too-mah-row."

To be honest, life without expectations is quite refreshing most of the time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kids and Elephants - Final Day on Location

We completed our final day of filming last week. The goal was to gather a few children - mostly below the age of ten, to capture their thoughts about elephants on film. Akram (mahout) and Champa met us at the Peace Pagoda early one morning.
The Pagoda is a large Buddhist Stupa on the Ring Road a few kilometres south of where Champa stays. We pre-arranged to have some children and their parents meet us at the monument for filming. The kids represented multiple countries - India, the United States, Japan and the UK. They had a chance to meet and touch Champa, give her bananas (Champa loves bananas) and, of course, go for a ride.
Once set up, we first interviewed the children one on one - questions included "What do elephants eat?" "How do elephants take a bath?" and "What do you think about when you see an elephant?"  The session was very fun. It was a beautiful day and our location was next to a large public playground where there were many local school-children playing. Taking advantage of this, with the permission of their teachers, we recruited two more children to participate in our interviews.
What really impressed us was the security staff at the Peace Pagoda. They obviously love elephants as much as we do. Without our asking, two of the guards brought Champa a large bundle of fresh Peepal leaves for her to eat while she waited between takes.
They delivered the bundle with big smiles on their faces! The guards knew just what to bring Champa, because the Peepal is one of her favorite trees to eat.
As you might imagine, we tend to draw a crowd whenever we film Champa and Akram. This day was no exception. Tourists from all over India and the world - from places as far as Nigeria and Russia - came over to greet the big elephant, touch her and have their photos taken with her.  I had to do a bit of crowd control so we could complete all of our shots - we only had permission to film the elephant for about 4 hours.
Despite the crowd and noise, we completed all of our planned shots and even managed to record Akram for some additional audio narration. Aside from a small introductory voice-over, our short documentary is entirely narrated by Akram Khan.
We are currently working on the rough edit of the film. If all goes well, we plan to present a rough-cut to one or two focus groups by the end of March. The film will then be sent to Croatia for a final cut and edit.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Filming becomes Farming

Lesa joined Pradeep and me on our third day of location filming last week. It was a scheduled shoot to film Champa the elephant and her mahout, Akram. Lesa came along to see what our documentary project was all about. We gladly put her to work. She helped with lighting and sound and provided us with a little moral support. On this particular day we followed Champa on her route to a nearby sugar cane field. We wanted to capture the process of how this favorite elephant-fodder was cut, gathered and loaded. Akram offered Lesa a ride on Champa's back on the way to the fields - of course she didn't hesitate to accept...
After about a three kilometer walk, we arrived at farmers' fields.  We set up for filming, but it wasn't long before Lesa somehow got side-tracked... It's not that she wasn't interested in what we were doing... in all honesty, watching a man cut down 300 kilos of sugarcane is a pretty dull, repetitive experience. All we really  needed was a few minutes of good footage, but the process took over 2 hours in the hot sun... Of course this is India, and no matter where you are, there are always people, and there is always something going on... The locals caught her eye, and Lesa got lost for time in the activities of the little village.
First it was babies. Two sisters insisted that she hold a young infant, named Ismail. They were very happy about it - they giggled and commented about the attention Lesa gave to their cute baby. As she held him, Ismail promptly smiled up at Lesa, which made the two sisters laugh and giggle even more. It was a nice connection.
After she gently handed the baby back to her mother and auntie, Lesa then made the mistake of showing interest in what another nearby woman what was planting.
We were standing in a sandy flood plain at the edge of the Yamuna River. The soil was neatly tilled with rows of little ridges for planting seeds. Once she understood what my wife was asking, the woman showed Lesa a container of small seeds - red lentils (dal). She led Lesa by the elbow out into the field and demonstrated how to plant the lentils. She placed one seed in each of many prepared holes along the tilled rows of dry, sandy soil.
Her husband was obviously amused at the sight of "Madame-Ji" learning how to plant lentils. He walked over and with a mix of Hindi, hand gestures and a few English words, explained that, once planted, he would flood the field by opening a channel from a small irrigation canal nearby. The husband and wife were a cute, surprisingly loving couple. They clearly cared for one another.
Without hesitation, and with plenty of laughter and encouragement, the couple set Lesa to work planting seeds. Twenty minutes of planting was enough for Lesa. Stooping in the hot sun has it's limitations. But I'm sure her participation in the day's planting gave the farmers a great story to share with their neighbors in the village that evening!
The photo shoot was finished and Champa, with Akram's guidance, had loaded herself with hundreds of kilos of cane. The three of us stowed our equipment and said our goodbyes...
But before we left, the farmer's wife returned with a big generous smile on her face. She handed Lesa a bundle of beautiful, fresh white radishes - a gift for "Madame-Ji," and many thanks for her help in planting the lentil crop.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Planting Trees

This past Sunday we took Evan's Cub Scout Pack to the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurgaon, Haryana. Gurgaon is a sprawling satellite city outside of Delhi, not unlike Noida. The city set-aside 562 acres of undeveloped land as a green space and natural destination for residents to enjoy. It is a huge, barren chunk of land, but the green space is sorely needed in what has rapidly become the urban chaos and hyper-construction zone of Gurgaon.
As part of earning their forestry badge, the cub scouts were invited to visit the park to learn about native species of plants, why they are important and who the trees benefit. The trees, including Neem, Peepal, Banyan, and Tamarind are all native to northern India. This re-forestation is important to help protect the arid land here from wind and water erosion and to help control the spread of non-native species. Oddly enough, one of the biggest culprita is, Mesquite. It's a thorny, shrub native to the Americas (believed to have been brought here 300 years ago by the Portuguese) and has spread like wildfire across much of northern and central India.
During a brief educational presentation, park professionals explained the many uses of the trees the boys were to plant. Extracts produced from the Neem tree, as an example, are apparently beneficial for intestine and respiratory disorders, as well as for the treatment of arthritis and many surface-skin conditions.
After a brief list of safety instructions, we were separated into small groups and hiked out on a nearby ridge to plant trees. The holes were pre-dug, and staff was present to provide help us access water, dirt and even first aid and some refreshments. The park even provided extra security for us in the form of mounted police.
As a group, the Cub Scouts and their parents managed to plant over 200 saplings during the course of about ninety minutes.
The weather was perfect for planting. The trip was a well organized, positive experienced for parents and scouts alike! The on-going project seems to be a great model for a country sorely in need of more environmental awareness, conservation and protection.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cambodia's Angkor Wat

It was good to get away from India for a few weeks. Christmas is a bleak time in Delhi. We spent our first India-Christmas in Noida, and vowed to never suffer through the damp chill and fog again. The tropics are a good bandage to wrap around our distance from family and friends back home.
 A traditional meal cooked under the supervision of a British National, meters from the Gulf of Thailand doesn't hurt either...
Angkor Wat was the reason for our choice to travel to Cambodia. In many ways it proved similar to our experiences in Vietnam.. having suffered a series of wars and many, many deaths from aerial bombings and literally millions of scattered land mines. But the country is beautiful, and its people are wonderful and welcoming. And Angkor Wat was worth the wait.
The National Park, and UNESCO World Heritage Site is the heart and soul of Cambodia. It is easy to get there, well managed and enormous. Angkor Wat itself is the centerpiece of the park, but it is actually surrounded by scores of other temple complexes which stretch for many kilometers in all directions. Many are walled enclosures that have the look of fortresses. There are broad, elevated avenues to approach their many gates. And there are many small temples - monuments or tombs to lesser gods and men. All of these places range from the 10th-13th centuries.
The land is very flat here, and good signs and maps make it easy to peddle a bicycle from site to site. Or if you chose, hire a Tuk Tuk for the day (about $10) to do a grander tour and cover more distance. We managed to do both and enjoyed the unique experience of each.
A little bit of India managed to wander its way into our Cambodia travels despite our distance. The preservation and partial restoration of Ta Prohm - actually my favorite temple complex at Angkor - is being managed and funded by the Archaeological Survey of India.
We met the director and got a chance to chat with him about the ongoing work their. He laughed when he found out where we lived, because he knew Nizamuddin well. His previous position was to managed the Archaeological Survey's restoration work at Humayan's Tomb - right in our back yard! Ta Prohm is famous and frequently photographed for its Indian Jones-like appearance.
It has been intentionally left much in they way it was discovered, with huge trees and vines covering its 1,000 year-old walls and buildings.
The other famous temple here is Bayon. It's smaller in scale, but also a pleasure to photograph because of its many carved, stone faces. Audrey and Evan loved exploring its many narrow, maze-like corridors and stairways.
 Lesa and I gave up trying to keep track of them in these places. We just set a place and time to meet, reminded them about safety, respect and staying together, then unleashed them out into the confines of each walled complex. They had a blast discovering the wonders of each place. And they'd occasionally spy and giggle at us through ancient windows and between tumbled stones as we each explored at our own pace.