Please turn off all cellphones at this time – Indian style

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During our stay in Hyderabad, a friend in the city urged us to go to a concert that she promised would be outstanding. The performers were an all-star duo of Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain.

Shivkumar Sharma is an Indian musician who brought an old Indian 90 to 100-stringed instrument called the santoor back from obscurity. He is considered to be a national treasure worthy of the Indian title “Pandit” (from which is derived our word “pundit”). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvVtX-JiF28

Zakir Hussain is another giant in the Indian classical music world. He plays the tabla, which looks something like a pair of bongo drums. Sharma and his santoor were wonderful, but Hussain stole the show for me. What he is able to do with his hands on the drumheads was beyond amazing.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOUM8K0-Wkc

Almost as amazing for us were the practices and audience etiquette at the concert. The first thing that struck us was the use of an emcee whose primary function was to get the audience’s enthusiasm up a notch: “Let’s put your hands together and give Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain a rousing welcome!”

Then the concert began and the audience participation really ramped up. Cell phones came out by the score and were held high to take photos and videos of the performance, with camera flashes going off repeatedly. Also, people continued to walk in and out throughout the performance, often walking across the front of the hall between the stage and the first row of seats, literally 10 feet from the two musicians.

The ultimate in audience participation was a man who climbed up a set of steps onto the stage to take in-your-face photos of the two performers. Because Sharma and Hussain were playing while seated yoga-style on the floor, the overly enthusiastic fan loomed over them. He left the stage only when Hussain invited him to leave.

The question I was left asking is how did the man ever make it up the steps onto the stage? There was a bouncer standing next to the steps, and his job was to stop audience members from going up onto the stage. The guy was big and all in black, including a black spandex polo shirt stretched tight across his rippling Schwarzenegger-like chest. He stood silently, back to the wall, legs slightly spread and arms crossed in front of him to expose biceps as large as a tree trunk. Later, our hosts told us that bouncers are routinely hired at concerts to keep fans and critics off the stage. But when our fan walked up the steps to shove a camera into the face of one of India’s national treasures, the guy in black didn’t move a muscle. Go figure.

Hindi, by Jessie Eisenberg

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Please note that I am eating authentic biryani in Hyderabad, the home of this most delectable rice concoction. Also please note that, according to local custom, I am eating it with my hand. My right hand to be specific, so as not to offend – or more accurately to repulse – any Indians who still use their left hands for other functions (in lieu of toilet paper, for example). Not visible in this picture is David, happily using a fork to convey this tasty meal into his mouth in a far more practical and expedient manner.

As Max has noted, paper napkins in India are wax coated, so they simply spread grease from one place to another. Thus, until you have access to hot water and soap, your biryani meal sticks to more than your ribs.

In Waltham, Massachusetts, where we live when we are not in India trying to escape the winter weather, I mean, in India seeking spiritual enlightenment, there are many people from India and for each one, it seems, an Indian restaurant. I would love to be able to enjoy a good dish of biryani close to home in any one of these Indian restaurants. But that’s not happening. Not because they don’t offer biryani. People say to us, “Oh, you live in Waltham. There are many Indian restaurants there. Why are they all so terrible?” I have no idea, but I can tell you, I’ve tried them all and gotten sick in each one.

Jessie Eisenberg (whom I will forever confuse with Mark Zuckerburg) is not only a talented actor, he is a funny writer. And a successful one as well, as witnessed by his piece in last week’s The New Yorker magazine (thankfully available on line here in India).

If I Was Fluent in Hindi, by Jessie Eisenburg

WAITER AT INDIAN RESTAURANT: Hello, sir, welcome to an authentic Indian restaurant. Do you have any questions about the menu?
ME: Yes. Why does your food always make me sick?
WAITER: Because we serve our American customers the kind with the weird spices that irritate their intestinal tracts.
ME: Oh.
WAITER: Yes, it’s official policy at all Indian restaurants.
ME: Well, what do you serve your Indian patrons?
WAITER: We give them a better kind of Indian food, which does not irritate their intestinal tracts.
ME: Can you give me the better kind?
WAITER: Yes, of course. Since you asked in my language, I feel more comfortable accommodating you.
ME: Thank you.
WAITER: Please don’t tell your American friends about the option to get Indian food that won’t make them sick.
ME: Of course I won’t tell them. It’ll be our little secret.

I’m starting those Hindi lessons tomorrow.

Photos From the Hyderabad Children’s Aid Society

Those of you who followed this blog will probably remember our friend Mary Ann and her connection to India, to Hyderabad and specifically to the Hyderabad Children’s Aid Society – the orphanage where she volunteered. I wrote about her in an earlier post called Our Friend Mary Ann. In addition there are two posts about the Home and our visit: Hyderabad Children’s Aid Society and Hyderabad Children’s Aid Society Post Continued.
I’ve begun to process over three hundred portraits I took of the children along with photos that I hope will paint a picture of the Home for people who haven’t seen it in person. Here are a few – starting with a picture of the room that the Home made for Mary Ann. When we visited it had been preserved as a shrine in her memory. Below that are pictures of morning prayers and finally of some of the children.

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Falaknuma Palace

What does it mean that the spellcheck on my ipad knows Falaknuma Palace and I hadn’t heard of it until we went there for lunch today. And what a lunch and what a palace it is.

Here’s the email I sent to our sons. The subject matter said, “Kiss your inheritance goodbye.”

Well boys, your dad fell in love with the palace where we had lunch today and went way beyond the 21 course degustation menu. Below is his response to our friend Santha’s invitation for our farewell dinner. Dad’s reply follows. It was Santha who arranged for our splendid lunch today. You can check out our new property at:
http://www.tajhotels.com/Luxury/Grand-Palaces-And-Iconic-Hotels/Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-Hyderabad/Overview.html

shower of rose petals

Don’t forget to look at the video just above. If you think you are watching rose petals being dropped from the balcony on arriving guests you are correct. Xoxo

Invitation from Santha:
Hi all
The Brodys – David and Lora – are alas going away on Tuesday morning and let’s all get together at the Sailing Club on Monday EARLY by 7 pm to bid adieu as they have an early morning
RSVP pl
Cheers Santha

Response from David

Dear friends,
Who said anything about leaving? We just purchased the Falaknuma instead of dessert. We tried to put it on the credit card but the seller would not go below 2.25% credit card surcharge. We ended up overpaying to get the deal closed as soon as we are able to sell our 11% interest in the US and Chinese economies. We have already emailed the kids to sell and wire the funds. Santha, even though used your name, we have not yet been able to open an Indian bank account to receive the wire transfer. So if you see US$ 4.270.000.000.000.000.000 hit your account, please understand.

We have instructed the staff to set aside a suite and dining room table (window, if that is acceptable to you) for each of you to use at your discretion. For groups up to 50 the house will take care of the charges in full. Beyond groups of 50 we regretfully must inform you that the UN General Assembly requires the guest to absorb 0.005% of the excess.

We know the transaction cannot be completed by tomorrow evening because our children will certainly encounter some delay in liquidating Manhattan and JFK Airport. Nevertheless, we look forward to your joining us many times at the Falaknuma as soon as the signage is changed to “Lora’s Place”.

David

Views from our new home:

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Contemplating Hyderabad

News from Hyderabad

“It’s v unfortunate but pl don’t worry” was the email we received from our friend Santha John from Hyderabad which is how we had learned about the terrorist attacks in her city. It’s insanely selfish to be relived that the violence occurred the week before we arrived and foolish to think that last week’s bombings don’t cancel out the possibility of something happening while we are there.

Our decision to visit Hyderabad came as a result of getting to know Mary Ann Marino who had spent the better part a year volunteering at The Hyderabad Children’s Aid Society and (we learned later) had adopted a child there. Mary Ann made friends wherever she went, and went on to connect those friends to each other in the most loving and enthusiastic way imaginable. When Mary Ann got sick while she was in Hyderabad, it was her friend Santha who cared for her and accompanied her back to Boston for treatment for a brain tumor. We were lucky enough to meet Santha and her brother George (a brilliant artist – among his many talents – who lives in Belmont), forming yet another link in the chain of friendships created by Mary Ann.

Mary Ann’s remission ended this past summer, disrupting her plans to return to India to continue the work she had begun at the Home. As we planned out trip here and her symptoms grew progressively worse we promised that we would visit Hyderabad and the Home. The chance to get to see Santha and meet some of her family was an offer we were thrilled to accept. When Mary Ann died last month that vast, worldwide network of friends renewed its connection, but this time with the sad news that the world had lost a shining star.

Sitting here on a houseboat in the peaceful broad canals of the Backwaters, the silence is punctuated only by the gentle chugging of the boat’s engine, the sound of washing being slapped against shoreline stones, the shrill cry of seabirds wheeling overhead, and the occasional blast of music broadcast from villages and other boats we pass. It’s difficult in this place (but at the same time too easy) to imagine the horror of the attack in Hyderabad. We worry about our friends there. And of course we question the wisdom of going. But then I remember that this kind of violence against innocent people can (and does) happen everywhere in the world and life is a crapshoot. People who spend their lives being afraid risk missing out on all sorts of marvelous experiences. Plus, if we stop traveling then the terrorists win.

We’ll be cautious and avoid crowded popular tourist places and shopping malls. We will send photos and posts from Hyderabad. Meanwhile, I urge you to take a few minutes to call up a friend and express some gratitude for having him or her in your life.

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