Thursday, August 30, 2007

My First Indian Business Trip

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Accidental Tourist

I hope I'll be able to blog from where I'm headed.

Senator Craig news is on in the background as I write. It has been the top story of CNN International for three days now. Pat and I feel very sad for him if he is gay and scrambling to stay hidden about it.

Yesterday, the cell phone service provider came by to verify my residence and Pat told them she was my sister after "IBM companion" didn't register.

Pat is calling to me from the other room, "Someone's not going to be ready...."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Beyond Bedtime

A U.S. colleague fell asleep in his chair at the office this afternoon. I warned him it would hit him at some point; he arrived very early on Monday morning.

For me, it's now officially past my bedtime, but I was missing the blog and wanted to write a little something at least.

A an e-community of practice that I created for work just now was going to appear best in Firefox or IE7 and so I installed a new browser. While waiting for it to download and re-boot my computer, I started reading The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

It was the most luscious way I've ever spent time, waiting for my machine to re-boot. What gorgeous poetry!

This past weekend, Pat and I went to Landmark, a bookstore at the Forum Mall in Bangalore, and I bought two paperbacks, The Rubaiyat and Rudyard Kipling's Kim. I'm a fast writer, but a slow reader, and so I can't recall a book I've ever read twice, as it feels like there isn't time, but I think I'll make an exception for Kim.

I read it when I was a kid and I don't even know how I came across it -- probably, one of my older sisters bought it at a tag-sale and I found it on our bookshelves. Who knew I'd ever be in India myself when I read it as a child?

The future is wondrous.

Full Moon Over Bangalore

Tonight is a full moon and I always feel the presence of my father, may his memory be blessed, during full moons. His mother, sister/my grandmother and aunt, and he all died on full moons. I've written about this before, but not here. In college, I wrote a wishful/magical short story about his visiting me in Ann Arbor, "Full Moon at Noon;" he died of common bile duct cancer before I entered college, not long after I turned 17 and he turned 56.

I think he's with me in a way I hadn't previously recalled since our arrival.

From the Next World to This One to the Transcendent

Earlier, I was at the cell phone service provider office, again, and I was cranky. The rep who was helping me announced that he was leaving because his shift was done and I said, "That's not fair. You haven't completed helping me ensure my activation." He began talking about their regulations around his work schedule and I wasn't interested.

Then he said, "Miss Siegel, it's a holiday for me today."

"I thought Onam was yesterday," I answered a bit less coldly.

"Right. I'm Muslim and it's a different holiday today."

"Oh, well, that's completely different. How do you pronounce it?"

He gave me the pronunciation, which I'm sorry to have forgotten. I wished him a happy ___________ and that was that.

It calmed me to learn that someone had a spirtual reason for curtailing a decidedly a-spiritual transaction. It was an instant relief and I let go of the rancor I felt. It was a breeze of acceptance.

P.S. My cell phone was enabled 20 minutes after his departure and I can now call throughout India. If they come to do an address verification on Thursday night as promised, then I'll be able to call family, friends and colleagues beyond India from my cell; thank God for Skype meanwhile and in any case.

Now, it's really past time to sleep! Oh well. I'll sleep better for having posted here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Stimulation Paradox

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Near, but Not in the Water

Waiting by the pool where we live for my manager to meet me, so that we could continue working on the design of our upcoming program, I watched kids on the slide in the adjacent playground. As four in a row slid down it joyfully, I returned to that age for a moment, where I was excited similarly, to slide down the slide and run back up the steps and slide down it again, and again and again.

And then a couple of boys ran by and did cannonballs into the pool and I recalled that phase, too.

Welcome to My Neighborhood

This afternoon, as I returned home from my meeting at the clubhouse, lots of people were out and all of them appeared to be busy with leisure activities. A young girl on the porch of her home was either practicing classical Indian dance or just some cool moves she'd seen on a music video. She danced to no audible music and stopped shyly when she saw me spot her and smile.

A small boy raced by on rollerblades and an older European or American woman rode past on a women's bicycle from, it seemed, the '50s, replete with a woven basket in front. Seeing the slow-paced cyclist, I was reminded of a friend and fellow assignee's chiding remark when he learned we were moving here: "Ah, so you succumbed to living in 'The Truman Show' community."

And then a blond man, pushing a double-wide stroller approached, featuring two bright-blond babies hardly older than each other and probably a four-year-old blond son trailing behind them in denim overalls and a red and white-striped shirt. The security guards at the clubhouse found him entertaining as he approached with earnest determination. They tried to play with him, but he just kept moving to keep up with the rest of his family.

And there was another young family, with a mother playfully chasing a tiny, golden-tan girl down the sidewalk toward me, with everyone laughing in Italian. And a mother of two boys, walking ahead of me, speaking what I guess was Norwegian, only because it didn't sound like Finnish or Dutch or Danish.

God. Contrast these descriptions with Pat's latest blog entry and it's sobering. I will keep coming back to privilege on this blog while we live in India, but for the moment, I will compartmentalize my sadness to share a happy experience:

The Joy of Design

Walking home from my meeting with my manager, for the first time, I felt joyous like the sliders and splashers. I was doing neither this afternoon, but still, I felt that I had gotten to play.

Carrying my ThinkPad and journal and some papers home, it seemed even more unusually hot and sunny than if I had been unencumbered, I think, and I felt like a bit of a nerd, but less so in a new pair of jeans that Pat and I found for me at Marks & Spencer yesterday.

Nerdiness aside, I was excited to be working on the project that caused me to sleep for 90 minutes on Thursday night -- I realized that I never qualified why I got so little sleep: We had to do some further program development based on a review by one of the execs. and it was due by the next afternoon, so that he could offer feedback prior to traveling to Punjab for a family wedding.

Advice I'd Like to Sear into My Psyche

Upon becoming coherent again on Saturday after a great night's sleep, I realized that I relished the work regardless of the recent sleep deprivation. What a happy discovery because what if I were knocking myself out, and then didn't even enjoy what I was doing?

Over the weekend, my dear friend and colleague here said to me that it was good to hear that I was having some fun in the assignment. Oy, I realized that until now, I hadn't really expressed many of the happy moments to her, nor had I had as many as I might have had, if I had been less anxious and more openly exploratory the whole time.

Who knows if I've learned my lesson. I don't believe this is the last time I'll be unnecessarily anxious. A friend who's in Alanon told me recently that she was quoting to me from the program's blue book, "Have I ever accomplished anything good while my emotions were churning with hysteria?...Take it easy." And then she said, "Sarah, you know that [Jewish] prayer, where we thank God for our orifices, and particularly for enabling us to go to the bathroom? Our body has systems to expel toxins, but how do we get rid of emotional toxins?"

It's interesting that no one has been able to persuade me of the folly of continuous work in this assignment prior to this conversation; she said, "Your over-work creates extra anxiety for you." Others had suggested that over-working leads to mistakes, and I know that's true, too, but all that did was make me feel ashamed on top of over-burdened.

Ultimately, the relief I give myself, other than time off (like yesterday fairly solidly), is reminding myself that I choose this paradoxical stimulation of working much of the time while I'm here. It's a crash-course in so many of the aspects of Leadership Development that I've been thinking about, but not yet practicing, and so it's a huge, endless opportunity.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Jinxed Myself

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Trumpeting Anything Is Dangerous

This is the longest I've gone without blogging in at least two or three months...and right after I showed off about having posted 100 entries. Predictable.

I have to keep writing because I can't not, not because it's a numbers game.

Disclaimer: I had 90 minutes of sleep last night and five hours the night prior to that.

This morning, I couldn't find the Delete button in my e-mail program. That should be a cautionary tale, that I really can't go sleepless effectively.

I'm working on an exciting program for work -- remember, the other day, I said I needed to channel Madonna's creativity for a project? Same project. It will be complete by early-September. And that's all I can say, as I don't talk about real work stuff here because it's confidential.

...which makes it fairly challenging to post entries sometimes, since much of my experience, especially this past week, has been work-oriented.

The worst part of being over-tired is being less alert to poignant moments in my day and just writing like an automaton.

Blah, blah, blah....

I guess the only other thing I'll hazard writing about while this tired is the fear I have of being out of sight, out of mind. In terms of this blog, I don't even know who most of you who kindly visit are, other than my family, friends and other people who are moved to comment when they comment with their names, rather than anonymously.

When I was away from the blog with work later this week, I actually worried about losing visitors permanently. And even not knowing you, I don't want you to stop stopping by. Of course, this sensation's exacerbated by my feeling out of sight, out of mind in being this far away from my typical environment.

I'm sure everything will feel less dire after some sleep. Hope this entry didn't put you to sleep. Well, *somone* should get some.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

100th Blog Entry

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Milestones Matter

I noticed just now that my previous blog entry was #99, and so I wanted to make it 100. Who knew that I'd have the stamina? I guess I did. I love to write and reflect. I was born to blog.

Illness Cured Inspires Gratitude

Cipro is miraculous. It kicked in this afternoon and Pat and I went to dinner at the clubhouse and I had something other than yogurt.

Tomorrow will mark four more months to my short-term foreign service assignment in India.

The Cipro miracle makes me want to list other things I'm grateful for:

  • Pat's companionship and witty punditry always, and particularly while we're far from much of what's familiar
  • The mission I have, to help IBM India leaders at all levels be even more effective through my work here
  • My management's sponsorship of me in this assignment and in my Masters education
  • Being able-bodied
  • Being mentally-well
  • That people here are most often warm in my experience
  • That I have a particularly dear friend and colleague here
  • I'm gaining direct appreciation for more of the world's humanity
  • Hinduism is on my radar now, where it was remote prior to living here
  • A colleague was receptive to my coaching on her leadership development facilitation
  • There's a gorgeous pool close by
  • "Red Cap" is shown on BBC six minutes
  • We live in a nice house; my favorite part is walking out the door every morning past the roses and hibiscuses in the garden....

Home Sick/Homesick

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Stomach Problem

I won't regale you with details of my illness, but suffice it to say that I am not wearing Indian clothing today -- the pants of the Salwar Kameez take longer to undo and do -- and I want to be as near to a bathroom as possible. OK, I couldn't resist a little detail to help you suffer along with me.

I wasn't going to blog, as I told my local manager that I'd likely not be online today, but actually, I've been unable to stay away -- just monitoring e-mail, rather than doing anything substantial.

The day feels OK from a break-taking standpoint in any case, since I worked over much of the weekend and didn't rest then. My family and my U.S. manager want me not to work so continuously. There are two main reasons that I do:

My colleagues here seem to do so; I am helping in arenas of leadership development (LD), where I haven't prior, and need the extra time to explore how to be effective in helping, e.g., in designing content for LD programs, rather than delivering it, which is my historical area of expertise.

"Memory is useful. Nostalgia is less so." -- Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

Last week, I gave that unsolicited and attributed tip to one of my colleagues here because it seemed to me that he was referring to the company he came from too often and nostalgically, and that it might negatively affect the morale of the people he leads.

He wrote down, "Memory - Nostalgia" and circled each and responded that it was the best tip he had been given in a very long time.

I waver between feeling that I need to take Rabbi Kleinbaum's advice and giving myself a break and realizing that it's understandable that I'd try to grab onto familiar cultural references et al in an environment that's so remote from the one I came from....And then I feel like such a baby, as a friend of mine spent six months in Azerbaijan, and not in the sort of comfortable housing we're in.

If only I could simply surrender to the local culture and stop watching "AbFab" re-runs and lurking on, smiling at all of the books I recall having read over my lifetime so far.

If I give myself a break, I say that I'm doing my best and trying to make a difference for the leadership of our company, and as a bonus, I have inevitable cross-cultural experiences with my colleagues.

Last night, we watched a fantastic movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer," which my best friend here and colleague gave me for my birthday. I am learning from Indians just by being here; it was a movie that was mostly in English with some Tamil, which is her native language, and we loved it.

Are Indians learning from me, just by my being here? Or how can I help the learning exchange be richer? I know that I need to be, and stay, open to it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

What I See While Radio Indigo Plays

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

During My Commute to IBM, Friday, 18 August

Disclaimer: The song titles are not necessarily correct, but I'm including at least a bit of the lyrics to clue in more educated pop music listeners than I.

"Rhythm is Gonna Get You" by Gloria Estefan plays as we drive through Palm Meadows toward the exit, passing a barefoot boy, sitting on the curb with a cockerspaniel on a rope-leash; a tiny girl in an orange jumpsuit, standing on the sidewalk with her sari-clad mom, the girl, watching our car as we drive by; the Indus International School deluxe tour bus-as-school bus, imprinted with the school's seal and slogan, In Omnia Parata (prepared for all challenges).

"Volare" by I don't know whom as we pass kids, waiting for the bus in their Indus uniforms, which look like soccer team uniforms, and maybe they are...; leaving the Palm Meadows driveway, across the busy street, a family around a fire, cooking breakfast in front of their cinder-block hut/home; kids in parochial school uniforms, waiting for their bus; coconuts still in their outer, green husks, piled high on a cart....

Commercial: "How about some nice hot chocolate...poured all over you?"


"Want to be as cool as James Bond? Watch and learn on Stars all week, sponsored by Motorola." During the commercial, we pass an official highway sign for the "Air Poart...."

"Afterglow," by Inxs during a traffic jam; to the left of us, a man in a tiny car, with a little girl seated with no seat-belt, leaning against the dashboard expectantly. She's sporting a tiny, gold bindi on her little forehead, with matching gold earrings, a red backpack, magenta cardigan, green polo shirt with white collar; Sri Muneshwara Samy Temple, in front of which wait four women and three men, with corporate ID badges around their necks -- all of the women are wearing various salwar kameezes, and the men, drab, western shirts and pants.

Elton John's " sacrifice..." while we're stuck on the bridge over the railroad tracks, to the left of an apartment complex-in-progress that dwarf's New York's Co-op City; Hindu-style swastika on a hut-store that hasn't yet opened for business; more kids in parochial uniforms; another temple with three, stray dogs in front, and Elton John sings, "Some things look better, just passing through...; Rajhbog Multi-cuisine Restaurant on Outer Ring Road.

John Legend sings "PDA" as I eat my breakfast of various vitamins, a glass of skim-milk -- the boxed kind from Nestle that's miraculously fresh prior to refrigeration -- and Dannon plain yogurt with a pear cut up into it and a quarter-cup of walnuts stirred in, too; we pass stone walls made of side-by-side granite slabs that look like extra-tall headstones or a giant's teeth; the New Horizon College of Engineering-in-progress -- currently, just a sign and a foundation built; black-garbed Muslim women; a couple on a motorcycle -- she's riding side-saddle and has her arm around his waist and the other hand holds on to a special handle on the seat that I've never seen anywhere other than India; an older woman in a sari is sweeping the dirt in front of her hut.

"Coming around again..." by I don't know whom as we follow a bus that is labelled, "Freedom International School;" then a billboard that reads, "BIG SPANISH HOMES at Outer Ring Road opp. Intel;" a thicket of almost-woods, but more so fantastically-lush under-brush that grew extra tall and dense with a crowded busstop in front of it; IBLUR Military Camp gate.

Commercial: "August is Accenture Careers Month -- just another day at the office, for a tiger."

"Sweetest Game" as we pass a tent-village, with tents/homes made of blue, plastic sheets and palm-fronds...the singer sings, "If I could escape, I would....;" herd of bulls, sitting on a small hill; traffic jam under the fly-over.

"Hips Don't Lie," by Shakira and Wyclef and there's a Perot Systems mini-bus.

"Fresh on Indigo, 'Inconsolable,' by the Back Street Boys," as we pass the Central Silk Board, including the National Silkworm Seed Organization; a bike with green-husked coconuts all over it, but with no rider in sight -- just parked road-side; following a little Bajaj truck, the back of which is open and features dried leaves hanging down its walls and three little boys, no older than nine, one wearing a tiger-patterned shirt....Two of them lie down and nap.

Commercial: "What's on the menu?" a man asks a woman in a romantic voice.

Disruptive, loud, high-pitched conversation breaks in and spoils the mood.

Voice-over: "Don't let your neighbors spoil your special moments. Move to X apartments." (Couldn't hear the name.) Another little temple on the left, among a row of stores; BOSCH mini-bus.

Justin Timberlake and a woman who doesn't, "...need the cheese or the car keys, Boy; I like you just the way you are." We're following a family on a moped, the young son in the front, the father and the under-10-year-old daughter on the back, with her back-pack; green Kawasaki Caliber 115 motorcycle with a tiny foot, sporting a delicate silver ankle-bracelet of stalks with tiny balls hanging off of each of them, dangled over the seat while the mother rides side-saddle, holding her; Infosys bus, going the other way; James Bond Dry Cleaners; concrete wall painted with, "Nurses, Free Passage to USA."

Sounds like Jill Scott, singing, "Doesn't make any difference to me what the world thinks of us" as two white-clad Muslim boys with crocheted skull-caps pass in front of us; Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology; Allahummaf Tahli...Mosque and then a Hindu altar with cows, resting in front of it; and finally, the tree in the road, which has been paved around, rather than cut down, just before we enter the IBM driveway.

During My Commute Home

It was getting dark, and so I'll just list the songs I heard, or at least bits of their lyrics:

"Pop that thing...Party Like a Rockstar -- totally do...Suicidal....

At this point, Channa, who drives me to and from work, tells me that his mother is coming to live with him this weekend, and that his sister, with her two kids, will come to help her move in; he's bought a place in Bangalore, and he sounds proud and I congratulate him.

"How old are your sister's children?"

"The girl is nine, in 3rd standard, Ma'am, and the boy is seven months."

Channa hands me his cell phone and Akshaya, the baby boy, with a tiny bindi, is looking at me on the cell's screen, and then I ask to see Silpha, and I tell him how cute both of them are and, "Ooh, look, Silpha and I have the same haircut."

Channa laughs loudly; it's true. I ask what the kids' names mean.

"Akshaya is a god, like a dish, for another god, and Silpha means a stone, a black one." I think I misunderstood Channa, as neither name relates to the descriptions I thought I heard him give when I look them up in Wikipedia. Akshaya is part of a festival name and Silpha is a carrion beetle....Wikipedia is not omniscient, though, I need to remember.

"I bet they love being around you," I said.

"Oh, yes, Ma'am. I call Silpha every day, in the morning and at night."

"That's so great." And then I become sad, thinking of how I couldn't call my family from my cell if I wanted to, since my cell service has been disconnected again; the cell phone service provider needs to come to our house to prove we really live at the address we've given, and they haven't yet done so, and so without warning, yesterday afternoon, the phone became "Unregistered" again.

I show Channa the pictures I have in my wallet of my nephews and niece and he is complimentary. "I have to get new pictures. Two of them are going into high school this fall."

Back to the music: ...I want to have your baby...swinging up like daisies....Don't let the sun be the one to cheat you, Baby; I'm forever lost...Looks like it all went wrong. What am I to do?....You have stolen my heart....Just forget the world...Mika's "Love Today..." Ooh, you give me somethin', somethin' no one else can....I'm not here for your entertainment...You don't want to mess with me tonight....I look at you. You look at me. They call it, we call it, you call it, I call it love.


The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Spanning Three Continents in a Matter of Minutes

In my dream last night, Pat and I were staying at a hotel that was walking distance from Jerusalem's Old City, much closer to it than when I lived on Mt. Scopus for my junior year of college. I was so excited to show it to Pat and it was Shabbat (Sabbath), and so her first sight of the Western Wall (the only remaining part of the ancient temple) would be even more dramatic/full of people/celebratory.

But we never made it. We kept walking down the wrong alley and being misdirected by strangers, who were friendly enough, but misguided.

Next, I was on my own in Northern Westchester County. I was heading to the Adirondacks, for a semi-annual trip that Pat and I make with ~80 female couples (we do make this trip in real life twice a year), and I ran into a colleague I like from work. She urged me to come to her home and join our other colleagues there (in real life, she lives in California and I've not been there on business since we've begun working together, and I've not been to her home).

Because I enjoy her company, I said yes and she rode with me in my car, a station wagon -- my parents', which I haven't driven since high school. We parked by a beach (there are none in Northern Westchester County) and so I guess we were in Westport, CT by now. It was a long walk to her street from where we parked.

When we got there, I was reminded of the homes Pat and I saw last night when we took a walk around the most established part of our housing development here in India. They were gorgeous, and in the dream, some of them were commercial, including the one on the corner that she heartily recommended we enter for some shopping.

I didn't want to shop. I just wanted to visit her home for a brief while and then make my way up to the Adirondacks. But I went in and struggled among all the eclectic stuff to find anything of interest. Finally, I found a Haggadah (the story of Passover), which was homemade, apparently by a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy. It had a soft, burlap cover and inside, he had pasted some sand and other messy materials, but as I flipped through it, I was impressed by his originality and decided to buy it.

The cashier looked like Bubbles from "Absolutely Fabulous" and told me that the book was US$65. I thought, God, I don't want to pay that much money for this book, but oh well, I guess it is one-of-a-kind.

"Do you take credit cards?" I asked.

"No, but --"

"If the ATM isn't mere steps away, I won't buy this. I'm in a hurry."

"It's just a couple of blocks from here."

"No, sorry." And I walked out of the store, relieved not to have spent the money.

I never made it to my colleague's and instead, went searching for my car, which I couldn't readily find. After much walking, I thought I spotted the area around the bend of which it would be.

Unfortunately, there was a low fence I had to climb over, plus some wet rocks and crashing surf to navigate, till I figured out that I could climb across solid marble bleachers till I got there. I was walking among the bleachers and passed a placid, happy American couple (man and woman) -- we smiled at one another -- and I kept walking, sure that I was on my way toward the car, but disappointed at my lateness, and then I woke up.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Madonna is 49 Today

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

"Hey You; Jump; Holiday"

I love Radio Indigo, which during my commute home, played these three songs in celebration of Madonna's birthday. Madonna is inspirational. I have to design some leadership development content for an upcoming program and I'll try to channel her creativity.

During my freshman year of college, in 1983, my older sister Deb tried to get me to pay attention to Madonna, giving me an album and telling me that she thought Madonna would be big, but the album cover was too girly and I didn't even listen to the music till it hit the radio.

After the Madonna tribute Radio Indigo played a beautiful song I'd never heard in the States, but which was a hit elsewhere in 1994 by a singer I love, Neneh Cherry, "Seven Seconds;" she collaborated on it with a French singer I had never before heard of.

At moments like that, when I'm exposed to exquisite cultural treats that I've not been in the United States, I'm especially grateful to be on this assignment.

Surpassing Literally Kindred Spirits

I heard one more song I'd never heard before and just tried to trace it on Google. It was by Alanis Morrisette and included the lyrics, "We'll fast-forward to a few years later; No one knows except the both of us; I have only your request for silence; And you've washed your hands clean of this...." The words I thought I heard during the song also included, "You're so pretty when you're all done up," and so I thought, How great. A song about a woman, loving another woman, even if it's a secret....I'll take what I can get.

I know I kvetch/complain about feeling isolated from a lesbian community while we're in India and I must admit it's self-imposed, as it turns out that since Pat is with me this time, it's not basic on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for me to re-connect with or to find lesbians with whom to hang out.

"Pat, wouldn't it be great if there were another lesbian couple here at Palm Meadows?" I asked her as we left the pool yesterday, "Like Ale[jandra] and Barb, when we lived in St. Charles [Illinois]?"

"Don't count on it."

Recently, we saw a woman here, running for exercise, who looked like she could be lesbian, whatever that means, but....

Maybe I wrote about this already, but I think that that's the properly stretching part of being Jewish and lesbian in India. It's like having been western in India before western radio, TV and Web media and programming were available insofar as we are more likely to learn from non-Jewish, non-gay, -lesbian -bi or -transgender people because they're more readily available, like westerners were more likely to experience Indian cultural entertainment before any other sort was available in parallel.

Several weeks ago, I met a Jew here. I spoke to him because he was wearing a kippah/yalmulke. I was so excited to see his kippah, and then it was anticlimactic; I didn't feel we had much in common, other than that he had friends whose kids had gone to the same Jewish day school as I had, growing up.

I feel so much closer and more kindred with a number of Indian friends and colleagues here. And that's an important reminder: Just because someone affiliates with my particular religion or sexual orientation or culture or country does not mean we have much more than that in common.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Independence Day, Again!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

July 4th - August 15th

Today is the 60th anniversary of India's Independence. Where we live, it's as blessedly quiet as ever, though people are driving around with Indian flags festooning their cars and trucks, and the flowers-in-water arrangement by the fitness center features three stripes of orange, white and green, in honor and imitation of India's flag.

Pat and I just finished a 45-minute swim. The air and water were inviting today. During my laps, I watched a stray mini-palm frond travel around the bottom of the pool and a water-winged toddler paddle back and forth in a blow-up alligator.

What is independence? In general, I mean. Today, it feels like choosing to work at home, and opting out of randomly watching a parade in town, and especially, it means taking a break and going for a soothing swim with Pat, and appreciating all sorts of exotic flowers and fig trees in people's gardens during our walk home.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Nature Loving or...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

How I Got Over Self-absorption...for Now

On the Green Heritage Walk, which began in Lal Bagh this morning at 7 am, Pat and I, plus Michele, who we met through a colleague, since she's also on a training assignment from the United States for her company, were the only non-Indians.

"The tiny berries on that branch were like little children, playing on a tree; that's how it was in my imagination, so no, it wasn't random," said one of the women I asked:

"Did you come today because you love nature, or was it random?"

What a charming imagination she had. Yesterday, Pat and I were morose from having had our first experience at a beauty salon in India. "Beauty salon" was a misnomer, and I can leave it almost at that, except to confirm that my worst fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and just as I had blogged about a few days ago, I've got "v"s now in front of my ears.

But I don't want to get in a bad mood again; I mentioned yesterday especially to contrast it with the fun of today.

Some Notes I Scribbled While Listening to Vijay, Our Guide

"The rock at Lal Bagh is more than half as old as the world itself...three billion years old." It is made of the gneiss -- a combo of granite, mica and quartz -- which is also common, I've noticed while commuting, on the Saw Mill River Parkway and 684N; it's just much younger, apparently.

Later, when we saw Dahlias and Gladioli in the glass house as award winners among the flower show, I was reminded of those species in our own garden in New Jersey. And we also saw the fruit of the Silk Cotton tree whose inside reminded me of Milkweed pods' insides.

Michele and Pat remembered Milkweed, too, though we grew up in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Connecticut respectively.

"Hyder Ali created the garden as an act of piety. Muslims think of garden creation as pious, since they're reflections of paradise on earth; Mohammed grew up in the desert."

A Danish, presumably Christian, missionary and doctor became a steward of the garden after Tipu Sultan and what began as a tribute to Islam was ushered along by people of different faiths and native lands.

If only flowers and plants and trees could distract everyone from what become the divisive parts of our religious differences.

"Looking for a new homeland, the Aryans finally hit the fertile Indus Valley, asking, 'Which were the trees and woods from which God created the heavens and earth?'"

Frames of Reference Frame Our Thinking

When Vijay spoke of Aryans, why did I have to free-associate silently/at all, thinking of the many swastikas I've seen in Bangalore since my arrival? Both terms were appropriated by the Nazis, but had no connection to them in fact.

I would do well to open my mind beyond the two religions I've grown up around, Judaism and Christianity, and learn more about Hinduism's history.

On Friday, two Hindu colleagues were telling me how Krishna's insistence that Arjuna finish the job he set out to do, of killing the non-righteous half of the land-seekers, was all about leadership and fulfilling one's duty.

This was in response to my saying that last time I was here, in 2005, a number of the participants in the leadership development training program I led told me that everything anyone needed to know about management and leadership was in the Mahābhārata.

"They were right," my Brahmin colleague said, and then provided the example of this story. She also said that she was well-versed in the Scriptures because her grandmother used to read her siblings and her a story from them nightly. And when her cousins and siblings and she all got together, her grandmother would read to everyone pre-sleep, and the story would go on sometimes for 30 minutes, which delayed bed-time, which all of them relished.

Divine Trees

Krishna told Arjuna that among tree manifestations, "I'm the Ficus Religiosa, the 'People Tree,'" as it's called in India. It had heart-shaped leaves and grew to majestic heights, like the one we saw in the garden.

We also saw the Ficus Krishna, the leaves of which invert themselves to become spoon-like and it was said that Krishna used the leaves to collect butter.

The rest of this entry features a prose poem made up purely of the trees we saw after the Ficus Krishna, including links to Vijay's musings on particular ones among them:

Banyan...Colville's Glory...Jackfruit...
Indian Satinwood...Australian Chestnut...broad-leafed pine...
Amherst Nobilis...Pride of India...Mango...
Elephant Apple...Silk Cotton...Australian Bottle....

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ladies Room Scene

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Intimacy Not Bargained For

Pat and I order at the Indian restaurant in the Clubhouse and I excuse myself to go to the bathroom -- the same one, where I met the woman, likewise trying on items last Sunday. I push open the carved, dark, wooden door and witness the most exciting scene since my arrival in India:

A gorgeous woman is squeezing the white, capri-clothed thighs of another, who's sitting on the sink, legs dangling. The squeezer whips her head around and looks at me with deep embarrassment. I try to pretend I'm invisible as I slink into one of the individual rooms with a toilet.

I close the door, daring one more quick peek and then my antennae droop: It's a mother, comforting her teenage daughter, and trying to help her pull herself together in a British-from-Britain accent. And she looks at me with horror because she doesn't want any of the clubhouse members to see any of her family losing control of her emotions. Ugh.

I'm so gross. How could I have thought that they were a couple? No, I'm just so hungry for lesbian imagery. In the States, we can watch TV and see ourselves portrayed, and we can get together with any of several couples of lesbian friends and just be nearly ordinary. Here, I feel so rare. I do need to call the lesbian and trans couple who my friend connected me with when I was here on my own in 2005.

As I exit the toilet and head toward the sink, there's no avoiding the mother-daughter unit; the daughter shifts just slightly to the left to make room for me to wash my hands. She's sniffling and I go ahead and look right at her while applying liquid soap.

"A few weeks ago, at the Windsor, I was eating breakfast with tears streaming down my face," I say to her watery blue eyes. "I just couldn't cope anymore."

She looks at me with surprise and then a touch of gratitude. Her extra-gorgeous mother looks at me with pure gratitude for distracting her kid.

"Yeah, the croissant-server knew to stay away from me. I scared her."

The girl laughs through her tears.

"I hope you feel better," I say, tossing my paper towel into the bin. Her mother rewards me with a huge smile.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hair Today...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Bald Truth

Recently, a dear friend of mine shaved her head on her 50th birthday. She has a partner of more than half a decade, two young children, a house in the suburbs and a corporate job, though she does work at home. Oh, and she's a regular, mainstream churchgoer.

I'd love to have dramatically less hair than I do right now.

"I see what you mean about the 'v's," Pat said to me two nights ago, looking over at a table, where a short-haired woman was sitting with her apparent family.

There has not yet been a short-haired woman in India whose side-locks weren't shaped into a "v." I figure that my side-locks' fate is about to be similar. It's finally time for a haircut, which will happen this weekend.

Relative to most others in India, my hair's practically blond; in fact, it's dark-brown with chlorine highlights and two-three gray strands that are visible before I pluck them out periodically.

Tension-free Living

Yesterday, I copied down the slogan of a billboard we pass daily on my commute home: "Aviva Life Insurance: Live tension-free. Live Life kul ke. SMS 'Aviva.'"

I don't yet know what "kul ke" means, but it sounds like "cool" and "calm- hey" to me. The term, "tension-free," came to me while showering this morning. Pat and I didn't realize that the bathroom-wall switch that looks like a night-light needs to be on for the water to be warm.

My whole body was clenched under the chilly spray and I thought, there's nothing more tension-producing than this cold shower. "Kul ke" was my fondest wish.

A Bizarre Message

And then on the way to work, there was a teenager, standing at the light to cross the street with her friends, all of whom seemed on their way to school; she was wearing a pink shirt on which was printed in large, white font: "Peekaboo Pole Icon." I read the message twice to be sure I was reading correctly.

Who would design such a shirt? Who would invent such a message? Does she know what it means? Why am I staring?

The Woman in Me

I've noticed a trend -- no longer a fluke, since it's happening this time, too. When I lived in Israel, in Jerusalem for a year at 20, I felt, and looked, more determinately female than in the States. I had my ears pierced at the shuk, though I had never before hankered after earrings.

The same thing is happening here. Yes, I'm trying to meet society half-way by wearing open-toed mules (just twice so far) and flowing salwar kameezes, but I actually do feel more feminine here. I felt that way in Israel, too. I wonder if travel abroad brings out the classic woman in me.

The day we moved here, over the weekend, a great store called "pinkk" came to sell clothing out of the clubhouse boardroom and I bought a number of vivid Indian outfits. The seller recommended that I try them on in the nearby ladies room. I had a big pile in my arms and she remarked, "Women are the same everywhere."

In the bathroom, I neglected to lock it and a group of girls came running in to check out the temporary tattoo that had just been affixed to one of their faces. After them, a woman came in while I was nearly topless and said, "I'm not looking at you. Don't worry."

"I'm not," I said, pulling the dark-and-light-raspberry-flower-printed and forest-green-embroidered, cotton blouse over my head. She looked at my pile, smiling, and for the second time in 10 minutes, I heard, "Women are the same all over."

I was in a sudden sorority of clothing enthusiasts. We introduced ourselves. She was petite and Indian and trying on stuff that differed from mine. I felt suddenly giant and garish, but also daring, with a flair. She's so many houses from the grocery store, she told me, and welcomed me to the neighborhood, even just for six months.

Meanwhile, Pat was waiting in the foyer for me to come out and make my purchases, so we wouldn't be late for the key pass-off from the owner of the villa.

We were nearly 10 minutes late.

Monday, August 6, 2007

New Routine

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Not an Oxymoron

Pat and I are amazed to be walking around a neighborhood that reminds us of a tropical Sheridan Road (Evanston, Illinois' fancy area, if I remember the street name correctly).

We decided to eat at the clubhouse last night. I signed us in and it was half the cost of hotel meals and still good food. The chef made me the cauliflower in yogurt dish that I love.

There are such glamorous moments here, and then the hardship of not being able to figure out the air-conditioning remotes, so that the room can be set for lower than 24 degrees celcius. We'll figure it out today, as I cannot have such a poor night's sleep again. (I know! Relatively, I should be ashamed to write the previous two sentences, but it *is* all relative, and I'm here to do a job that I need to be awake for.)

Now, I need to shower and blow-dry my hair with one hand, since I must hold the transformer against the outlet with the other, or it falls out....We'll break down and buy a local hairdryer before too long probably.

Being high-maintenance isn't sustainable here, though I'm trying.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Moving Day

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

The Van Arrives at 11 am

Meanwhile, since I don't yet know if we'll have immediate connectivity from our rented house, I want to blog once more from the hotel, to be safe:

Desire is on my mind -- from the parody (I expect) of Silky Kumar's "Scent of Desire," which I've seen a couple of times on MTV here to Maximo's poignant crush in "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" and the lifelong gender-dream of the "Beautiful Boxer."

Pat and I saw these two films yesterday at the "Films of Desire" festival with our friend who's on assignment here and his friend, who's originally from a small town near Kolkatta, but who works and lives in Bangalore now.

Post-film Desires on My Mind

And then I'm thinking about my own desires. There was a point in "Beautiful Boxer," where the main character was winded, running up an endless set of temple steps. The coach told the boxer, "Think of how the thing you wish for most is at the top of those steps and run to it."

I don't have a single-minded desire like the boxer, to be acknowledged as female -- well, sometimes, I wish to be acknowledged as female(!) -- but I mean that there's not one, over-riding wish...well, yes, there is: to feel universally understandable and understanding, even if my particular circumstances differ from others'.

Had I written " feel universally understanding and understandable," I'd have been disingenuous because the reality is that my first impulse is to want to be understood and then my attention can turn to understanding others...and I don't think I'm alone; in fact, that impulse is likely the genesis of most wars, i.e., I come first and then you matter.

We drove by three feral dogs last night and I said to Pat, "Do you think they're friends?"


I thought, but didn't say, "Do you think they're still friends when there's just one scrap of food available?"

On the way to the restaurant, I was telling our assignee-friend about the exciting experience of Friday night, of having witnessed the Muslim wedding, and how Pat's and my delight reminded me that all of us are universally connected, when we notice.

"Religion's just a good excuse for war," he said, "I'm convinced that it's not about religion, but always about resources."

Love, Money, Identity

Last night, both films showcased identity, love and overcoming poverty. On Friday, at lunch, I told my Indian friend that this weekend I needed to blog about money.

This was in response to her asking, "What have you noticed about India so far?"

"There are marvels all around us, everyday, just commuting back and forth. Wondrous humanity all around...and I am such a 'Have,' like I've never before been in my life -- Pat and I would have never been able to stay at a five-star hotel for multiple nights had our company not funded it -- and there are 'Have Nots' all around us."

I'm even more [self-]conscious about what we have as we prepare to move to the gated community today. And I cannot pretend that our privilege is brand new. We live nicely in New Jersey, too.

It's the visible contrast between what we have and what others don't that is so stark...though we did have a taste of feeling like "Have Nots" ourselves here twice so far -- during a play staged by the hotel, where we were surrounded by the Bangalore equivalent of the people who appear in photos of society events in the "Sunday Style" section of "The New York Times" every week, and when we glimpsed the wedding on Friday night. What sort of wealth would families have to be able to fly 70+ people from Edmonton, Canada and Bahrain to Bangalore?

This, I'm sure, is just one entry on topics I'll need to return to -- desire and privilege. Now, though, we need to eat breakfast, check out and move to our new home.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Adventure Off the Lobby

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Celebrating a Muslim Wedding, Rather Than Shabbat

Back in our hotel room, Pat said, "They're just starting out their life together. They looked like they were in their early-20s," Pat said, "...I wonder what they had for dinner."

The lump in my throat felt like it grew a beating heart. I became so caught up in the gorgeousness of the hennah-handed, multi-bangled, jewel-studded bride and the pumping Hindi music.

Whatever came next would have swept me up, and we inched out of the ballroom backwards, since we were shy, being the only non-Muslim women in sight, let alone the only Jewish lesbians.

Pat turned around before I did to head respectfully toward the exit. I was conscious that I was treating the bride and groom the way Jews treat the Torah ark, backing away from it after an aliyah (honor, where we're called to the Torah, to bless it or read from it), and I think it's because I felt like I was leaving a holy place.

From there, we walked down the hallway with giant smiles to the Raj Pavilion, where we opened our gift-bags and had what must have been a pedestrian dinner compared to the bride's and groom's.

"I am glad we didn't get the camera on some level," Pat said.

"The bags are hand-made."

"I know. I looked for a label that would read, 'Made in China,' but there's no label."

"Stay for the meal," they said, but we just couldn't impose....I can imagine people, thinking, you should have taken them at their word.

This was a welcome culture-clash. Whereas in the States, it's called "crashing a wedding," this family of 70+ was genuinely open and welcoming of us, no matter how we were dressed and no matter that we were pure strangers. It reminded me of the regal hospitality I felt when my friend Rebekah took me to her boyfriend's Atif's friends home in Neve Shalom 22 years ago.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Play On!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Bollywood Guiltless Pleasures

I've collected these favorites over a number of recent Fitness Center sessions. Jestin spots weight-lifters, and helps me with the spelling of the titles because I can't always recall the Hindi words after 30 minutes. Jestin also tells me to go to Planet M on Brigade Road if I want to find the best selection of Bollywood DVDs.

Music and music videos are my special pleasure so far, in addition to our friend Chitra and the exquisite food at the hotel. And tonight, on the way home, on Radio Indigo, I heard Brittany Spears do a marvelous cover of a Joan Jett song. This morning, I heard a male singer cover the Pointer Sisters' "Fire" amazingly. And Nickelback(sp?) has a great song, "Rockstar," not to be confused with a hit from a couple of weeks ago, "Party Like a Rockstar."

Our friend wanted us to go see "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" on Friday night, but I told her, "Pat and I like to pretend we can have a regular Sabbath on Friday nights when possible." And this afternoon, I received an instant message, asking that I spend Saturday at a career development event. I'm proud that I said I had another commitment.

Coming here, I knew that observing the Sabbath was going to need to be dispensible sometimes, but I don't want to dispense with it every Friday and Saturday.

It's beyond bedtime and I wish I could write in my sleep.