Saturday, September 29, 2007

Museums and My Mother

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

Loving Both

My mother used to take me to the Museum of Modern Art while I was still in a stroller and talk with me about what we saw. When I graduated from the stroller, we'd tour the exhibits and then go to the sculpture garden, where she would let me play, touching the sculptures, and sitting on the cool, low, marble bridge over the man-made stream/pool, swinging my then little-legs over the water not far below.

My mom told me that the first time we went to the Guggenheim, when we reached the top, I asked, "No more?" And my favorite museum of all was the Stamford Museum & Nature Center, where I took classes, ranging from how to identify local trees (oak, maple...) to how to draw cartoon-art.

Growing up, I felt like we lived in a museum. Since the early days of their cut-short, 27-year marriage, my parents collected Jewish folk art, which was all over the walls of our house, and even on the floors when wall-space ran out. After my father died, may his memory be blessed, my mother kept collecting and the art took over the house fully, in a good way.

Last week, my mom told me by phone, "I found a postcard from Daddy [may his memory be blessed], where he mentioned having sat with an assistant archivist from [a major museum] on a planeride." This was 26 years ago. On the postcard, my father mentioned the archivist's name, and that he was interested in seeing my parents' art collection.

Neither of my parents followed up with him...until the other day. My mother called the museum and the same man is now a head archivist and recalled the conversation with my father, and still was interested in seeing the collection(!)

Two Museums: Their Time Has Come

Last week, I saw a marvelous story on my company's intranet site, about how IBM helped the Smithsonian launch a virtual version of the emerging National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The brick-and-mortar version will occupy the last space of the Smithsonian's mall and meanwhile, until it opens in 2010, the virtual version will be popular, I predict, as it includes a memory book. I submitted a memory -- a ~40-word version of a previous blog entry and the automated response tells me that I'll be notified if it is published.

This emerging museum's journey reminds me of another's in parallel -- that of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Two 4th of Julys ago, my mom, Pat and I visited it in Philadelphia.

Currently, it occupies just one exhibit room's worth of space in a temporary building just off the main plaza in Philly, but it plans to be steps from the Liberty Bell, also in 2010. The exhibit that it's running till then is called "Forshpeis!" (Yiddish for "a taste" or "appetizer"), which is a great name for just one exhibit of more to come.

When we visited, the exhibit invited us to write our memories of Jewish foods on index cards and then add them to the metal index-card boxes at the tables, and to read the memories that previous visitors had added to the boxes.

It was so clever; they had set up a number of areas to look like '50s mock-kitchen tables and we sat at them and reminisced individually. And then we read one another's and others' memories -- just like the Smithsonian and IBM's Community Relations organization have enabled people to post their memories in connection with African American life.

Cover Story Catches My Eye

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

"Accept Your Gay Child"

While waiting for Pat's hair to be cut, I found a magazine among the pile at the salon, the September, 2007 issue of "Savvy," a Magna Publication. I registered the irony of flipping past pages of gorgeous female actors and models who moved me to the story, which began, "How do you deal with a child whose behaviour hints toward homosexuality? Anupama Bijur guides you."

I learned about Sangama and about the expertise of a famous surgeon, Dr. Sudhakar Krishnamurti. I learned, too, that there's an NGO called Swabhav, run by Vinay Chandran and an Alternative Law Forum.

The article made the ultimate case for accepting that there are "...more than one or two sexual orientations" and for loving one's child no matter his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. How useful to see the topic and messages in a popular Indian fashion magazine!

Fresh Hair

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

Shorn 'nough

"Where are you from?"

"New Jersey, outside of New York. Where are you from?"

"Sri Lanka."

"When did you come to Bangalore?"

"Three months ago."

"Me, too!"

"How long will you be here?"

"A total of six months. How about you?"

"Oh, 10-15 years....I wanted to go to Europe, to Toni & Guy. That's my dream."

"Is Tony & Guy in London?"


I just had a look at its web site and I believe that I now have a haircut that's somewhere between its "avant garde" and "identity" collection. It's very essential (short), and it pleases me.

The man, who was cutting my hair was in his early-twenties, with orange-highlighted strands of messy-by-design, shortish, brown hair; dark-tan skin; a tight, white, short sleeved shirt with a mock-turtleneck; black, nylon pants; and long, square-tipped, black, leather, tie-up, men's shoes.

After my unfortunate, previous haircut, my mother said, "Sarah, when you see someone with a good haircut, ask where she went and go there."

I did.

Naming Names

"What does your name mean?" I asked.

He stopped cutting my hair and his face became pleased and wistful at once, "In my religion, it means...."

"May I ask your religion?"

"I am Muslim. What does your name mean?"

"Sarah is Hebrew; it means princess."

"Princess," he repeated.

"So, it's Ramadan for you now --"

"Yes, but don't talk to me about it. I have nowhere to go."

"I'm in the same situation. I'm Jewish. Do you know about the Jewish religion?"


"Well, there are no synagogues in Bangalore, and so....Actually, it's my Sabbath and I'm not supposed to get my hair cut during the Sabbath, but I guess you can see that I'm not that strict."

"I'm supposed to go to the mosque on Fridays."

"Right. There are mosques here, but it's not the same without your family, I'm sure."

He looked sad in response and I hoped I didn't spoil his mood, as I needed a good haircut. Fortunately, he compartmentalized the mood and went on, being artistic.

He rubbed a wax that looked like honey around my remaining hair and made me look wild. "I'm lucky you haven't yet gone to London. I love it!" He smiled and touched my shoulder.

Art brings people together, and commerce. I can't wait to see him again in six weeks.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sleepy...Yet in a Good Mood

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

I ought to be asleep now, but I've had such a nice day that it's hard to quit. This morning, I asked Chitra if "bindaas" was always a good quality.

"It's powerful, like your word, 'chutzpah'. It can be all-positive, and sometimes...." In our niece's case, I'm sure that it's purely positive.

Our oldest nephew, also 14, might have an upcoming sitar concert broadcast on YouTube. How amazing is this electronic social networking world.

Offline, one of our twin nephews, who's eight, ran for Student Council recently and got elected as an Alternate. And our other nephew, also eight, wrote a love-song and plays it on his guitar.

All of them will be taller by our return.

Not Our Typical Sukkot Season

Sukkot began last night and I know only because an online, multicultural calendar sends me e-mail of all holidays that I have registered for, by country. It extends through next Wednesday and I wonder if eating outside, by the pool here is at all close to sitting in a sukkah.

Thinking that I would give it as a gift to any Jewish family I met here, I brought a hand-painted, purple silk Afikomen cover, made in Jerusalem, to give away as a gift. Afterall, I don't think we'll meet more Jews and so I'm thinking that I'll give it to one of my colleagues, who hosted a Jewish cultural evening with his Christian Bible study group recently.

If he ever hosts a model-seder, he'll be artfully-equipped.

I'm also missing the turning of the leaves, but we're compensated generously by the African tulip trees all over the city, which bloom in September.

It's hard to believe that September ends this weekend. Tempus fugit; I can remember almost none of the three years of Latin I studied in high school otherwise.

Today was a great day because work was exciting, the weather was gorgeous -- cool and sunny -- and everything seemed familiar to me, like I was no longer a new visitor.

Incoherence is nearby and so I'll stop now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Being Bindaas

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

Webster's Online Definition of "Bindaas"

According to my friend and colleague Chitra, Webster's online specifies:

Main Entry:   bindaas
Part of Speech: adj
Definition:   admirably bold and independent
Example:   talkative and bindaas babe
Etymology:   1993; India
Usage:   colloquial

Chitra has a 14-year-old daughter and my niece is 14. I showed Chitra my niece's Facebook page, which features a variety of photos of her, being silly and beautiful at the same time.

Chitra taught me "bindaas" upon looking at the series of photos. On the way home from work I asked Channa, who drives me, "What does bindaas mean to you?"

"Someone who is very free, Ma'am."

Please, God, let my niece always be bindaas.

Monday, September 24, 2007

India Triumphs!

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

Cheering for Our Host-country

We ate dinner at the clubhouse tonight and the cricket match between India and Pakistan was being broadcast like a drive-in movie on a huge projection-screen outside by the pool, with speakers blaring the commentary both outside and in. There were several parties of men outside and the rest of the tables were reserved, and so we ate inside, but still felt part of it.

Months ago, Pat found an explanation from Purdue University on the rules of cricket and studied them. She was explaining "wickets" and "20 overs" and "bowlers" to me and I was impressed. For three seasons in my early-20s, I played rugby and never learned all of the rules; I was in the second row of the scrum and mostly just needed to push forward.

I clapped and shouted when everyone else did -- then and tonight -- and had a lot of fun in both cases.

We returned home, which was a 10-minute walk under nearly a full moon, in cool, night air -- Fallish, but with bananas budding, rather than leaves turning colors -- and Pat turned on the rest of the game and cheered as loudly as she does for the Packers (who won their third, straight game yesterday; they're 3 for 3!).

India won! We heard our neighbors cheering, too, and I felt proud of India for the second time today.

This morning, on the way to work, I saw a great article on how India can become a full-fledged super-power; it was my first moment of pride.

Nice to begin and end the day with Indian pride.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bowling in Bangalore

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

Music is the Balm

Coming back from an afternoon of bowling and tandoori gobi (cauliflower) and murgh (chicken) for lunch, Radio Indigo (91.9 FM) played these three gorgeous tunes in a row:

  • Al Jareau and George Benson, covering "Summer Breeze"
  • Sarah McLachlan, covering the Beatles' "Blackbird"
  • A live version of "Adia," also by Sarah McClachlan

For the bowling-lunch fun, we met our friend and colleague, who has been on assignment here from the United States so far for 18 months, and a number of other Indian colleagues, all of whom are also gay, but not necessarily openly so; all of them were men who seemed to be in their early-late 20s.

At lunch, I asked, "What would it take to start a chapter of our [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT)] employee networking group here in India?" Already, we have 49 chapters in 27 countries.

The colleague, sitting across from me answered, "The problem here is two-fold -- societally, there's not yet the acceptance....It's still considered criminal; and then all of the men I know don't think of it as a community....They think of men, seeking men only for sex."

"What a shame."

"Yes, it is a shame."

"Do you know any [lesbian, bisexual or transgender] women at IBM in India?"


"Do they feel the same way?"


"OK. So it's not about no one, wanting to take on the responsibility for leading the chapter -- which is minimal....Basically, all you need to do is have your name as the contact-person. Rather, it's about it being too soon."

He nodded.

"I'm reminded of when I was here two years ago, and I told the managers in my section of the leadership development program I was facilitating that they needed to be ready not only to have their Indian employees contribute to global teams across the company's matrix, but rather, from now on, to be ready to manage global teams themselves. And sure enough, two years later, it is routine for Indian managers to be managing global teams, right?"

"Yes, true."

"So maybe in 2009, we'll smile about this conversation and recall when it was not yet routine to have an Indian chapter of EAGLE [the GLBT employee networking group]....You never know who will become inspired to start it up."

They didn't wait till 2009 to smile. They smiled today with what seemed to be a bit of hope in their expressions.

Friday, September 21, 2007


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

Today's the Day

Would I ever have imagined I'd be online on Yom Kippur? Growing up, I never imagined spending Yom Kippur in India, or that there would be the phenomenon of blogging.

Here I am.

Earlier this week, a friend shared amazement that we "...made it out of" our Modern Orthodox Jewish day school with "...fewer complexes" than we should have. It is a pretty big test of that thesis -- for me to be blogging, rather than praying and fasting today.

Due to my otosclerosis (the more serious inner-ear variety, which no hearing aid can help, if it comes to my going deaf, God forbid), my doctor has forbidden me to fast, since 2004, and so I've had three years to get over that transgression. Not being in synagogue, praying, though, is completely novel -- a first, I think.

(This is too much pride probably, especially for a day like today, but I feel the need to say that my hearing, meanwhile, is perfect. The otosclerosis was diagnosed in 2004 due to a sudden and temporary, 60% hearing loss in my left if you wake up or notice that any of your hearing seems suddenly to be gone, please don't wait. Go immediately to the doctor, as I did; he put me on steroids and the hearing popped back, miraculously, after 10 days -- often, it doesn't.)

Please Accept My Apology

Over the past week, I've apologized to my loved ones for however I might have hurt them in the past year and I'll offer the same apology here, for anyone who knows me, who I might have missed:

If I have hurt you either wittingly or unwittingly in the past year, please forgive me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Forgiveness Season

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

Samvatsari / Yom Kippur

Just when I despair of gaining sufficient cultural competence in India, or of being able to relate to Indian religions' rituals, God gives me another chance:

Last week, I answered a cell-phone call in the evening because Indian cell service doesn't include voicemail, which is considered too impersonal. The person was hoping to become a service provider on a project I'm working on. I was to fly away to Kochi the following day and wasn't mentally prepared to have the discussion with him then.

"I'm getting ready for a trip tomorrow and so why don't we talk on Monday?" We scheduled the time and I hung up, feeling proud of setting a boundary around work.

The potential business partner began the call today, saying that he trusted that I had had a good trip. I told him the context -- about it having been in honor of the Jewish New Year. "Did you celebrate Ganesh's birthday over the weekend?" I asked.

"I'm Jain and actually, our holiest holiday is today."

"I'm sorry to be taking you away from your holiday."

"It's OK. It's the Samvatsari Festival of Forgiveness, where we ask each other to forgive us for anything we've done in the past year either intentionally or unintentionally."

No way! Finally, a religious practice I could relate to directly. "Did you know that I'm in exactly the same period right now, that at this time of year, Jews ask for forgiveness exactly the same way, for intentional or unintentional offenses? We have to ask one another for forgiveness up to three times."

"Yes, I did know."

"Why am I ignorant of key holidays here and you know my holiday?" (It was a rhetorical question.)

"I'm just back in India after living in the United States and the U.K. for 20 years, and my brother-in-law is Jewish. Did you know that Orthodox Jews and Jains work together closely in the diamond industry in New York and Antwerp? There's a direct flight from India to Brussels now."

"I had no idea."

Origins of Jewish and Jain Entrepreneurship

"There are probably three million Jains in all of the world. Like Jews, Jains are family-oriented and excel at entrepreneurship. Max Weber called Jains 'the Jews of India.'

We became good at mercantilism, since we were barred from roles open to Brahmins, which we couldn't be, since we weren't Hindu, and since we didn't want to be farmers, in case we might harm living things through tilling, and since we weren't often soldiers because of our preference for non-violence -- of course, we're soldiers for defensive purposes, but it's not a popular profession...."

"Well, probably, you know this already, but Jews became merchants because we were barred from the medieval guilds and were forbidden to own land, and so we couldn't learn trades or be farmers..." and I didn't say this or think of it at the time, but I think Jews got into the diamond industry, as diamonds were highly-portable, for when we were expelled from the countries where we were no longer welcome, which happened relatively often historically.

I'm writing this during my commute and we just passed several flower-bedecked Ganesh shrines. And the streets feature strings of colored lights; this festival, celebrating Ganesh's birth reminds me of Christmas. By contrast, though, the colored lights appear only on the streets, whereas houses simply display garlands of flowers at the tops of their front doors.

More Religious Commonalities

Earlier today, following my conversation with my new Jain colleague, a Catholic friend and colleague and I discussed how our religions treat Bibles and prayer books and we discovered that if either one drops on the ground, we must pick it up quickly and kiss it. She said that she was taught the same practice as a Catholic.

The commonality ended when I described how we treat raggedy Bibles or prayer-books, or any texts with God's name inside that are severely dog-eared; Orthodox Jews bury them. "Now, I've never worn out a Bible or a prayer book, and so I don't know --"

"That's telling!"

"Not like I've worn out my computer!"

We smiled.

I forgot to mention to her that if anyone drops a Torah, collectively, the congregation to which the Torah belongs must fast for 40 days (and so 40 congregants could each take a day, but the point is that it's a huge transgression to drop a Torah).

Note: When I looked up "Jain" in Wikipedia, I learned that the swastika is among Jainism's holiest symbols. That's why I see it on merchants' stalls and trucks and apartment buildings sometimes then...a perfect example of surrendering my frame of reference and replacing it with another in order to adapt to where I live now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Computer's Fan Died

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

Managing My Dependency

This morning, I discovered that the fan died in my nearly-four-year-old lap-top computer. There is no tech support for employees in India on Sundays. Fairly ironic.

I'm borrowing Pat's machine to post blog entries today. It's amazing how attached I am to my own machine. I'm also wondering what will happen to my iTunes -- a couple of birthday presents' worth of music that I'd love not to lose.

What would Leo LaPorte do?

When I've had parts of my lap-top repaired in the past, I've been able to overnight my machine to a place, where they've replaced it with a re-furbished machine. I wonder how possible that will be here. There must be a similar system, mustn't there?

My computer malfunction has to be a sign that I should go off-line and do some reading for school.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Trivandrum Pix

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

Here are some photos from my recent trip to Trivandrum on the Arabian Sea coast, taken with a single-use camera, including a typical view from the hotel; one with my friend Chitra and me; and another of a painting in the lobby that appealed to me:

The ground-cover was a forest-green carpet.
Chitra looks so elegant in a sari.
Were the women in the painting part of a harem or a salon? I like to imagine that it was a salon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chag Samayach!

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

Touring the "Oldest Synagogue in the British Commonwealth"

Yesterday felt like the closest Pat and I have ever been and will ever come again to being on a pilgrimage. We awoke at 3:30 am, got to the Bangalore Airport by 5 am and to Kochi by 7:30 am.

The total ground and water transportation took longer than the flight, which was just a bit over an hour. We rode in an ancient Mercedes Ambassador car with no seat-belts for the 45-minute trip to the tip of the island, where we were staying, across from Mattancherry/Fort Cochin.

It's much hotter in Kerala, by the Arabian Sea, than in Bangalore, we soon understood. My sunglasses weren't quite strong enough and the walk from the hotel to the jetty primed us for our inevitable sunstroke later.

Sunblock #45 did not prevent the sun from beating on our heads, but all we had were India cricket team hats with us, and we did not want to appear disrespectful when we visited the synagogue. My mom doesn't have a computer, fortunately, and so my sisters can skip reading her this part; she'd be unhappy that we didn't protect ourselves better....Bev [Pat's mother], if you're reading this, please don't worry. Both of us took two extra-strength aspirin upon our return to the hotel, went for a swim and felt fully refreshed.

A Pair of Perspiring Pilgrims

We got off at the bottom of the island and walked nearly its length, which took about 30 minutes -- past innumerable handicraft storefronts and spice-stalls, goat-gangs and perfumers. So many smells and unrelenting heat. Since my prior time in India, in 2005, I've said that I've smelled the world's best and worst smells in India -- mostly the best. My nose is never bored here.

When we got closer to the synagogue, the number of antique and handicraft shops multiplied and men kept calling to us, "Come into my store. Just see for a minute....Good afternoon! How are you? I've been waiting for you! Come see. Only a minute!"

I found myself looking at the ground more than I wanted to, as I wanted to avoid eye contact with any of them. We just kept repeating, "No thank you," and walking past. None were happy with our disinterest.

Once, looking up for just a minute, I saw a pretty woman in the doorway of a store and her expression invited me to come in. She said nothing bold, like the men, and I was as close to looking in her shop as I came during the entire barrage, but we just kept forging ahead. I had to remember that just because her appeal to me was more appealing than theirs, it was no more sincere necessarily; it was a safe bet that her friendliness -- and theirs -- was based, above all, on encouraging commerce.

How do religious pilgrims feel when they're approaching their holy site? Do shopkeepers bother people when they walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem? If I remember correctly, they don't. My cousin Nitzah (Blossom) took me on a walk on that path when I lived there, and I recall that there were many stalls with rugs and leather belts and bags and clay drums and candy, but I do not recall having felt harassed to buy anything.

We reached the doorway by 11:30: "Nah l'hagiyah b'libush tznuah," read a sign in Hebrew, which was translated: "Please dress modestly," and then it defined "modestly," saying that anyone in "short trousers" or short skirts, or who was "sleeveless" would not be permitted to enter the synagogue.

Pat and I were wearing long pants and long-sleeved blouses by design, and still were forbidden to enter the synagogue. Next to the modest-dress sign hung another that read, "Synagogue closed today for the Jewish holiday."

I heard voices upstairs in the synagogue and called upward, "It's not yet Rosh Hashanah! The Jewish holiday doesn't begin till sundown. We flew all the way from Bangalore. Please let us in, just for a quick look!"

"We are cleaning. The synagogue is closed," they called down.

We knew it was a hazard to come on the morning of Rosh Hashanah Eve, but took a chance -- a nutty one, it turned out. We stood on the street outside the non-descript, white building, which Pat noted, oddly included a bell-tower, and felt ashamed at our inability to witness the only synagogue in South India, at our bad luck at being unable to have any Jewish connection on the morning prior to one of our holiest days of the year.

A clean-cut guy appeared and listened to our disappointment for a bit. He told us that he was Catholic and that he was sorry we were unable to go into the synagogue.

Pat looked at me with an expression of hope and an idea born of desperation and said, "Sarah, hold up 500 rupees and tell them, 'The first one to open the door gets 500 rupees.'"

I did, assuring them, "We just want to come in for two minutes," and there was rustling...and then silence. The Catholic man yelled up something in Hindi and a moment later, the door opened.

Finally, An Open Door

A Hindu man showed us around and we saw that indeed, they really were cleaning. It was the oddest sanctuary I'd ever seen: glass chandeliers of random shapes and sizes, and some with colored glass, hanging just over our heads, all over the room, which our guide said all came from Belgium; blue and white porcelain tiles, which he told us each were unique and imported from China -- they had scenes on them, but I was too unnerved to notice specifics; the ark had an inscription over it that read in Hebrew: "Keter Torah," (Torah crown); to the left of the ark, painted in blue, on white, in Hebrew was the central prayer of Judaism, the "Shema..." (Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One").

As we stared at the wooden ark -- built into the wall, which was not strange, but more typical, he said, "This synagogue was built in 1568," and, "This is the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth." And then, since he was not Jewish and so un-observant of Jewish rituals, he swung open the doors of the ark, which is not done typically, unless and until it is time to remove a Torah in order to chant from it.

Five Torah scrolls, each encased in a big, round, silver cylinder, which my mother tells me is the Sephardic style of Torah cover, appeared inside the ark. Again, since he was not Jewish, he opened one of them and said, "Touch it if you like. You can kiss it."

It's true that there's a procession, where people carry a Torah(s/ot) around the synagogue during the Torah-reading service, at which point congregants are free to kiss the Torah, either by touching a fringe of their prayer shawl to it, or by touching a corner of their prayer-book to it, and then kissing the fringe or book. It's never OK to touch it with our bare hands...and yet, when he invited me to do so, I put the first two fingers of my right hand against the parchment, near the Hebrew text and kissed my fingers afterwards.

"Pat, do you want to? Go ahead," I suggested.

"No, let me just touch your fingers," she said, not wishing to compound the transgression, and she did, and then kissed her own fingers. Afterwards, she told me she was highly surprised that I went ahead and touched it. "He didn't know better, but you...."

"I couldn't resist." And then we talked about how if it had been during a genuine service, Pat and I likely would never have gotten to walk on the main floor of the sanctuary, since during services, women must sit upstairs, apart from the men.

Just as we were about to leave, one of the cleaners came down from upstairs, holding two giant, jewel-bedecked, bright, bright gold Torah crowns that he had just polished apparently. The guide said, "They were a gift of the Maharajah...."

The synagogue we belong to, as well as the one where I grew up had Torah crowns, too, but they were pale, sterling silver -- nothing as grand as what we witnessed in the Kochi synagogue.

Just then, as we were remarking on the amazing preciousness of the crowns, the Hindu man said, "Chag samayach" / "Happy holiday," and Pat and I nearly cried with gratitude. We loved that he knew the expression that Jews use with each other on every holiday, and that we got to hear it and say it very near to ours.

The whole tour really did require not much more than two minutes, and Pat and I left there ecstatic. I was struck by how meaningful the two minutes in the synagogue felt to me compared with the 20 or more minutes we spent in the Ganesh and Bull temples last weekend.

I had no frame of reference for the Hindu houses of worship and a deep one for the synagogue. When we left, the guide said, "Shalom," (Hebrew for "Peace," and a greeting of either hello or goodbye). We loved him then.

When we exited the synagogue, I looked for the Catholic man who had helped us and didn't see him at first. Then he appeared and I wanted to give him some money for his help. "Oh, no, please. Instead, come see my shop," he said. It was huge and filled with large, unportable antiques, including Christian Madonna figures.

Pat asked, "Do you sell rosaries? A woman was very kind to my mother when she was in the hospital recently and when my mother wanted to give her a gift, the woman asked that her daughter bring her a rosary from India."

He didn't and advised us that next to churches, we could likely find small shops that would sell rosaries. I told him, "Thank you so much for helping us have a meaningful holiday."

At the post office, a wheat-toast-complexioned, white-haired man with a white, knitted kippah/skull-cap with red and blue Stars of David bordering it hurried past me to post a letter, and I felt emboldened by the synagogue visit and said, "Chag samayach."

"Chag samayach," he answered softly as he nearly ran past me.

Next to the synagogue was the Incy Bella bookshop, where I found a book on Jewish identity and India; a comparison of Hinduism and Judaism, which described how both are all about orthopraxy, rather than orthodoxy, which made sense to me; and two on the Jewish community of Kochi, of which I learned in the book there were just 20 members (as of 2005) -- one of our guidebooks had specified that only seven Jewish families remained in Jew Town, which is what the area is called.

How We Spent Erev Rosh Hashanah

Satisfied that we made the connection we hoped to make with South-Indian Jewish life, or mostly with South-Indian Jewish history at least, we took the ferry back to our hotel, where we ate a delicious lunch of our first Middle Eastern food in India; swam in the infinity pool; went on a sunset cruise around Fort Cochin; saw a demo of Kathakali dance; and ate grilled fish, Kerala style, outside by the sea, listening to Muslim prayers over loudspeakers that faced us from across the water, at the next island. The dance included an enactment of Baby Krishna, sucking the life out of an evil wet-nurse.

Typically, Pat and I would be at synagogue, singing the traditional "Avinu Malkeinu" in community, rather than watching a tale from the Mahabharata. In fact, that's likely what the rest of my family's doing right now, in their synagogues in Jamaica Estates, New York and Brooklyn.

Paradoxically, It's Not At All Paradoxical

Here's the paradox....I hope it doesn't seem paradoxical, actually, but rather understandable: I've never felt more Jewish, even as I've never been less observant ritually. I grew up, not being particularly encouraged to do cross-religious exploration and I've been doing more in India -- even with the little bit of temple visits and reading I've done -- than I've done since earning my World Religions badge in Girl Scouts at 12.

It's as though seeing others' religions only strengthens my affection for my own. What has impressed me is how people can be enthusiastic about religious traditions that I do not relate to at all, and I've become more directly appreciative that the world has any number of ways to get at similar truths.

God is everywhere, no matter how remote I am from the familiar; I see God's work and feel God's presence whenever I'm open to it. Right now, it's pretty late at night, after 11 pm (India time), and I can hear the rain beating outside, and the ceiling-fan whooshing over my head, and I'm alone in this room, and yet, I'm not at all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


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

...Is My Friend Gail's Birthday

That's how I like to think of September 11th, but I can't help thinking of it in more macabre terms, being far from where we typically live -- about 12 miles away from Manhattan. Pat told me that she saw on TV that it's raining in New York City today.

"Good," I said, "that it's not a picture-perfect day, like it was six years ago."

Pat continued, "During the news, they interviewed some Americans, who were saying, 'People from other countries just don't understand how difficult this day is for us,' and I thought, 'No, they're thinking, now you know how we feel -- we, who've had terrorism in our countries for years.'"

At work earlier, I thought: Yes, I'll tell my whole story, if anyone asks, "Were you in New York City on September 11th?" In fact, I was working there that day, but at the IBM building at 57th and Madison Ave., rather than downtown; yet, I tasted a bit of the day's nightmare.

No one asked. No one even seemed even to notice the date. I guess Pat had a point! Or maybe they were being polite and not bringing it up?

Survivor's Rut

I remember when our neighbor fell through a glass door and cut his face this past Spring. When I saw him, I did not ask him to recount how it happened, as I knew that he'd have to re-live it in order to narrate it. That seemed too cruel. My insight came because I had that re-living sensation after a car accident during an ice storm this past April; so many concerned people asked me to detail it for them. I could have gotten past it more quickly, if I hadn't had to keep narrating it.

Same thing with September 11th. If anyone in India had asked for my story, I'd have offered it, but it would have taken a toll.

And I think of a colleague here, who's also on assignment for another company, for whom that bridge in Minnesota that fell several weeks ago was part of her daily commute; if she hadn't been here, and had been on that bridge instead that day....

Life is Good While It Lasts

Leaving dinner at the clubhouse tonight with Pat, I thought about a different loss that we transformed into opportunities for other adventures. More than the anniversary of September 11th, by dessert, I was thinking about it being the four-year anniversary of my deciding to stop trying to become pregnant; by the time I was 38, I had tried IUI via an anonymous donor nine times over 1.5 years.

God had other plans. Finally, on Rosh Hashanah four years ago, I faced that I wanted to stop trying. If we had had a child, I do not believe we'd have had the wherewithal for me to take this assignment, and for Pat to accompany me.

Speaking of Rosh Hashanah, it's time to pack for our trip tomorrow.

Please God, let 5768 be a year of good health for our loved ones and us. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Spirited Materialism

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

Bindi'ed Buying Spree

After the temple visits -- I forgot to mention that Ganesh had a bright, red swastika painted on his forehead -- Pat and I set out to boost the Indian economy a bit.

Everything about yesterday countered what I was taught in my Modern Orthodox Jewish day school for the eight years I attended it:

Do not admire or enter other people's houses of worship lest you be suspected to be leaving your own tradition for theirs; do not appear to worship anything remotely idol-like; participate only in Jewish, and no other religions', rituals; do not ride on the Sabbath; do not spend money on the Sabbath....

I wasn't being willful -- just less observant than I learned to be as a kid....Still, I felt in violation of traditions I had been taught...though not sufficiently to keep me from what I wished to do during my Day of Rest.

In addition, I had a new sort of religious anxiety yesterday: Our driver is Hindu and I didn't want to offend him by wiping off the bindi, and so I wore it all day long. Into G.K. Vale to get my Trivandrum photos developed; into Gangarams Book Bureau; into the Cauvery Gift Centre of government-sponsored hand-crafts; into Hatricks Sports shop; into Planet M....I wondered if Hindus who've been to a temple go shopping afterwards, or if my fresh bindi was mocking Hinduism through its accompaniment of me in my materialistic pursuits.

Lovely Leisure

Right or wrong, yesterday was pleasurable nearly beyond how I've allowed myself to let go in India so far. Other than the night of dancing on the beach in Trivandrum with my colleagues earlier this week, until this weekend, I have been pushing, pushing, pushing myself with nearly no break; it was worth it from a work and school achievement standpoint, but I did finally listen to my mom about being kinder to myself in terms of re-gaining some balance.

We bought some gifts for loved ones and a number of gifts for ourselves, too. I bought three books, Corridor, which I relished and finished last night; Dance Like a Man by Mahesh Dattani, which I've just started; and The Diary of a Maidservant / Ek Naukrani Ki Diary by Krishna Baldev Vaid, which I've also just started.

We bought a bunch of DVDs and CDs, too, including *The Namesake,* which was touching, but not one of my all-time favorite movies by a long-shot; "Jana Gana Mana: Exclusive renderings of the [Indian] National Anthem by the musical maestros of India;" "Shooter," starring Mark Wahlberg, who we like; "Glory Road;" "Lagaan: Once upon a time in India;" "Perfect Stranger," starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis; and three for 500 rupees: "Against All Odds," with Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward; "America's Sweethearts," with Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones; and John Cusack; and "London," with people we've never heard of and Jessica Biel.

I bought some remarkable jewelry at the Cauvery Gift Centre, including sterling silver pieces with iridescent Labradorite, Black Onyx and Mother of Pearl.

Music Thrills

My guiltiest pleasure yesterday: Buying pop CDs. I always love the compilations I get in other countries compared to what I find in the United States. I bought "Klub Arabia, The Biggest Hits from the Clubs of Arabia;" "Popcorn: 38 tracks that still snap pop and crack you up!" including Erasure's "Oh L'Amour," Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" and Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie," a favorite of mine from high school; "Sandstorm," including tracks by a group called the "Bombay Rockers;" "Disco Desi," which includes a track called "Moksh" by a group called "Whosane;" and "Best World Music Album * in the world ever! *," which was produced by EMI Music India and most of the tunes of which seem to originate from India.

Whenever I hear "Pass the Dutchie," I feel like I'm with the singers on a Carribean ocean-front beach. Escaping that way was especially welcome when the song was a hit, in the Fall of '82, when my dad was dying. On the same CD, I'm now listening to Modern Talking's "Cheri Cheri Lady," which reminds me of dancing at Bar Aton, a club on the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, throughout 1985/5746.

Please, God, may I always be able to hear music, in 2007/5768 and for the rest of my life....I wish all of you could hear Maduar's fun "Hafanana," playing on Klub Arabia in my ThinkPad right now. Effectively, you can.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Anticipating the New Year

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

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is Practically Here

This weekend, Pat and I walked barefoot through the Bull Temple and allowed a priest in front of the bull to rub red-powder bindis on our foreheads.

How did this Hindu ritual prepare us for Rosh Hashanah? Until just now, writing here, I hadn't considered a connection. Partaking of any religious ritual, as we did for a few minutes yesterday, seemed better than continuing with no religious community, as we had done for the past two months.

The priest had a plate that held money, which was reminiscent of plate-passing I've witnessed when attending church services with Christian friends. I had US$1 in my pocket and put it on the plate. I was saving the dollar to give to someone poor, which had been my instructions by the person who gave it to me prior to our departure from the States.

The dollar contributor was a past student-intern at our synagogue, who had since become a rabbi. I want to believe that the Temple was not a rich enterprise and that I fulfilled my assignment acceptably.

It's neat how the dollar was in the wallet of a New York City-based rabbi and made its way to the collection-plate of a Hindu priest in Bangalore.

Temples on Land and in My Imagination

The only other major temple near Bangalore is the ISKON Temple. Hare Krishnas, who run it, do proselytize, which is not typical of most Hindus, according to my nephew Zach.

I just looked at the web tour of the ISKON Temple (see link above) and it looks as grand as I imagine the ancient Temple in Jerusalem looked in its day. A number of worshippers need temples, mosques, synagogues and churches. Apparently.

Until planning our upcoming trip to Kochi, Pat and I have been mostly religiously structureless while in India. Yesterday's tour of the Bull Temple and the temple in tribute to Ganesh down the hill from it, and the Muslim wedding we happened on last month, were as close as we've been to spending spiritual time together in community.

Where is God?

My friend Zdravko asked me for my concept of God several months ago and I told him that it aligned with Martin Buber's I-Thou idea, that in our best encounters with other human beings, we see the Divine in each other and are paying full attention to each other, are fully present.

I want to hang onto this concept, particularly while we're not somewhere, where it's simple to pray with other Jews in community. Most of all, this six-month experience of living far from my birthplace is stretching me to try to have I-Thou experiences with people who are not necessarily natively familiar to me.

What Will the New Year Bring?

Every Jewish New Year, I have a parallel sense of hope and dread, as every single year in my experience, fantastically wonderful things happen and sad things happen --both beyond the imagination, always. This past year, at Rosh Hashanah, I never would have guessed I would have the opportunity to live and work in India. And I would not have expected one of Pat's relatives to suffer from congestive heart failure; the relative is recovering, thank God.

What will 5768 bring?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Once We Know One Another...

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

Anything's Possible

Yesterday morning, a group of Oman Air flight attendants and I shared a ride from the Trivandrum hotel lobby to the conference center, where I was dropped off, and they kept going, to the airport.

"Which airline do you fly for?"

"Oman Air."

"Are all of you from Oman?"

"I'm from Morocco, but the others are."

"I've never been to Oman or Morocco or Saudi Arabia."

"Oman is the second cleanest country, after Singapore."

"It's probably gorgeous. I did live in Jerusalem for a year during college, so I have been to the Middle East, just not to your part of it yet. I loved it. I was at Hebrew University. Have you heard of it?"

They nodded yes.

"I have lots of family there, too...not in Jerusalem, but in a coastal town -- my grandparents and aunt and lots of first and second cousins."

One of the female flight attendants: "Isn't it dangerous there?"

"Yes, but when you're living there, you don't feel it in the same way as the media portrays it."

She responded, "There are two things that I always want to avoid: War and Illness."

"Like bird flu?"

"No, cancer, HIV...."

"Ah....I remember very few words in Arabic, but I know 'Salaam Aleikum, shukran' and 'knafeh' ['Peace be with you, thank you' and a luscious Palestinian pastry]."

"Then, you know the important words," said the war-and-illness-averse flight attendant, and all of them smiled at me kindly.

Later, I was telling some Indian colleagues about the quick, friendly exchange, and how I hesitated for a moment prior to telling them about my Israeli relatives.

"We have tension with Pakistanis, but there are all sorts of examples of kindness amongst Pakistanis and Indians."

"Yeah, it's so ironic. We're all Semites -- Arabs and Jews -- just like Indians and Pakistanis are essentially akin."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dancing Under the Stars with Stars

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

"You'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit nervous; I'm speaking to the smartest people in India," said the narrator from the Indian dance troupe at a recognition event for our company's most accomplished India-based leaders on Monday night.

Watching the performers, I couldn't stop smiling with wonder. My favorite dance featured the five women (small surprise), shaking rice sifters in a mime of removing the chaff. It was the best way for me to be introduced to traditional Indian dance, since they were non-traditional in some of the music they used, including sampling a bit of rap during one of the Indian songs; I loved the music.

Afterwards, I went to the ladies room and found that the women of the troupe were about to change in an adjacent room. Before they did, I stood in the doorway tentatively and they looked at me welcomingly.

"May I come in for a minute?"

They nodded.

I said to the leader, "Your narrative was as graceful as the dancers. And all of you were so beautiful. Thank you!"

They smiled appreciatively and the leader was pleased.

"Did you write the narrative, too? It was so perfect."

"I just say what comes to me." How wonderful to be an artist.

Every bit of my pressure of delivering the project during the prior days disappeared because of their gorgeous entertainment (and also, because we delivered the project successfully by then(!)). I'm reminded of my cousin Francesca Blumenthal.

Transported to a Lighter Mood

Not long after Pat and I moved to New Jersey from Illinois, which was not long after I joined IBM from the joint venture where I'd been working, Francesca invited us to a cabaret show, featuring songs she had written.

Pat was at a meeting for work then and not able to come, and so I drove into Manhattan after work on my own. My cousin sat with me prior to the show to catch up and I told her I felt anxious and a bit depressed at how new everything was, especially at work.

She was sympathetic, but none of what she said helped me particularly. And then the show began. Francesca's music cheered me up entirely and made me forget my worries. It was a pure gift. At the intermission, she visited me and asked how I was liking it. I told her I didn't feel depressed anymore.

"That's what entertainment is all about, Sarah," she said, and, "Transporting people into different moods is why I write songs."

Our Own Bollywood Scene

The traditional dancing ended and Indian pop music, featuring dancing IBM stars began. A premier D.J. urged "IBM leaders" to the sea-front dance-floor, which was a big, round, concrete platform on the beach.

A new friend and colleague invited me to join the growing crowd. Everyone danced with everyone. Only one other dancing colleague was not Indian.

It was a Great Wall moment for me. Translation: When I was lucky to go to China on business a couple of years ago, I felt completely akin with the Chinese people, who were walking on the Great Wall at the same time I was. It was a shared activity that had universal appeal.

I was able to let go nearly completely, most of the time. There were moments on and off, where I worried about looking women in the eye while dancing, as I didn't want either of the two who knew about Pat to feel weird. One of the two, I imagined, was indeed uncomfortable, and she did not ever look at me, but probably, I was projecting. The other one came up to me and urged, "Loosen up!" as she continued dancing with zero self-consciousness. I did.

The heterosexual executive sponsor of IBM's GLBT constituency for India was there and I had the most fun, dancing with him because I felt completely at ease, since he knew, and liked, me in all my humanity. And then in pairs men and women entered the circle to hold hands and spin around, as I've seen pairs of men do at traditional Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish weddings.

The head of IBM India/South Asia looked at me and gestured toward the circle and one of the male leaders I didn't know took my hands and we spun wildly fast. It felt like an initiation, and that I passed it. Everyone was smiling at me afterwards and I kept dancing to Indian pop tunes I didn't know, but which passed my criteria for good music; they were cheerful with a beat.

Hungry and feeling that I had earned my 10-o'clock dinner, my friend Chitra and I filled plates and walked down to the tip of the beach to eat. The shoreline at one end reminded me of Maine with its big rocks.

Hindi Lullabyes

After dessert, and after the D.J. was done, a group of 15 or so IBMers were sitting in a loose cluster on what had been the dance floor, singing folk songs in Hindi. With feeling.

I was moved and also became calm and sleepy, listening. Chitra and I walked back up the small mountain/huge hill to the hotel lobby and I called Pat from my room, feeling a bit guilty at all the fun I had had.

The next day, a new colleague, Kuldeep, "Like cool and deep," he said, introducing himself, asked what my impression of IBM India/South Asia's leadership was after participating in the multi-activity event.

"The most impressive leadership moment I observed," I said, "was the singing that happened spontaneously at the end of last night. If you can sing together, then the leading's much easier."

Saturday, September 1, 2007

To the Land of the Coconuts...

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

...from the Garden State

A year ago, I was reading book I was assigned to read in preparation for my grad. school orientation, on American education. I was so earnest.

I am so earnest. Only now, a year later, I'm doing an independent study with a great professor I had during my first semester. She's helping me with my field research.

I'm in the middle of some field research right now. What a dilemma. I'm in Kerala, which I'm told translates as "Land of the Coconuts" and it's breathtakingly beautiful...and I'm hard at work for work and school.

Some months ago, a mentor told me that it's more fun to take pure vacations than to go places, but to have to work while there. I couldn't really relate. Now, I can. I had to leave Pat in Bangalore, since none of my colleagues brought their families -- at least I felt I had to.

I feel like I need to make it up to Pat. She definitely wants a present to make up for my absence, she told me before I left.

Day 2 starts at 7 am. Warning: I'm about to whine for a moment; not only am I not taking off for U.S. Labor Day while in India, I'm working the entire Labor Day Weekend. Also, I didn't take off the 4th of July or Indian Independence Day. I do not feel at all guilty that we'll go on a short trip in two weeks, during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

We'll also go to the Taj Mahal in the coming months. I can't wait for those experiences.