Saturday, September 13, 2008


Formally known as Malabar, this beautiful state is full of water, rich dance traditions, cocconut trees, has the highest literacy rate and the only state communist government in India.


The southern tip of India. The Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean blend together as you watch both the sunrise and the sunset from one ledge of rock.

The Indian Elephant in the Corner

In Indian rooms, classrooms and even churches, I saw elephants in the corner. The elephant sits there placidly starring at everyone with its gentle monstrosity. It carefully crosses and uncrosses its podded feet to gently touch the floor. As it often goes, no one notices or speak of the beasts lurking in corners- those looming and obvious issues. Pachyderms of injustice, hierarchy, fear and even solutions stare out to those who notice.
Elephants in India are a presence; their image inhabits temple carvings, graces bedsheets, pottery vessels, choztkys and enshrined as the hindu god Ganesh. They are bulldozers to move logs or are gilded with gold and admired in the outdoor temple festival. They walk the festival streets and people glaze over this four-podded giant tip-toing beside them as an ordinary dog out for a walk.
In India, heated discussions swirl in a tiny office while an elephant sits in the corner, when momentarily, the discussion pauses and all bronze eyes glance in the corner, for a glimpse and to make sure to not get stepped on. At the train station, trash is thrown on the tracks, and a lone 8 yr old sifts it, with the elephant staring at her through the hurrying legs of the crowd.
In America, elephants in the corner are briefly noticed as a joke that we wave at, chuckle at its rubber satellite ears, and titter at its tiny switching tail that emanates from the hulking form. We sit in our large offices, safely away from Dumbo, and read in awe of an Indian elephant who rampaged at a temple Pooram festival, killing four. A chill runs down your back as the cause of the rampage was a man who touched the tusk of an elephant, sending it off. You wonder why he wanted to touch a presence, something better left unsaid, or unnoticed. Your blue eyes dart to the corner, and sense that the tiny switching tail leads to no joke, but an issue left unchecked.

Photo glimpses

Christian Medical Center in Vellore, where Andrea spent two packed weeks doctoring at one of the best hospitals in India, and being amazed at the range of people and health coming through.

The street outside of a temple festival.

A typical meal, served on a banana leaf- no waste!

How babies get to sleep on the train.

Tea fields in Ooty

Directing Midsummers in India

When initially talking about the project, where I directed the college drama club, I wanted all of the show to be based in India- the lovers, the workman, etc. An objection arose because if the lovers in the play were Indian characters, then the character's decisions about love would be condoned. Namely the fact that the lovers run away from the will of the parents and chose for themselves who they wanted to love. This is, as they say in India, a western love marriage. In southern India, arraigned marriages are still the norm, where the man and wife meet maybe once, and it is set up by the parents. There are variations of how much the parents set up, but predominately the parents have a strong role in the decision.
When we talked to people about their arraigned marriages, we never met one who was bitter. A common phrase was that you learn to love, no matter what. One lady described how good it was to trust her parents, for them to make the decision, rather than have the pressure on themselves to make the right decision. A couple of times Indians would make jokes about how complicated western style of love becomes. The love in Shakespeare's Midsummers is complex, layered and poetically dances back and forth. So I guess it is true. A point to debate is if our culture and art make our understanding of love more complex, layered, or if love is truly that way. Anyways, the decision for the production was that the lovers and parents would be westerners on a holiday in India. So the rude mechanicals and fairies were in Indian style of dress, which did make them more fanciful and important.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Today I sit on a train facing backwards.
Every once in awhile I must resist the urge
to turn my neck to discover what lies ahead.
The climbing rocks of the Western Ghats,
the fluorescent green leaves of rice patties,
the man riding his bike on a narrow dirt path
with no village in sight for kilometers,
the dancing field of sunflowers,
the lush coconut fields,
the rising tree with no green leaves
but gorgeous flowers like orchids
gracefully resting on each of its dainty branches,
the cow with its rope tied through its nose
exchanging glances with me,
the sporadic Hindu temple
claiming ownership of a rocky pyramid shaped hill.
All these things I see contentedly looking backwards
resting my eyes on what has already past.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The people keep coming.

The second-class train car is full when Chandran, Prabath and I get on in Coimbatore. All seats are over occupied with sleeping babies strewn across laps, holy men sleeping in luggage racks and steel food containers rolling about on the floor. More people have followed us on, so standing room only has turned into merely space available. The train creeps from platform one and a few brave stragglers jump into the open doors, which are protruding with bodies. Chandran leaps into the luggage rack to create a seat and Prabath and I cling to the rail. The arms of the standing passengers cling tree-like to the rail of a forest that I look through. People stare curiously at me. In my narrow space I read in my newspaper about Cricket, Pakistan’s new coalition government and the Obama-Clinton race. I look up and yes, many are staring, some smile.
The first and only stop on this express train before we reach our destination is Tirrupur. A few people get off but dozens more get on. Silly me, I thought the train was full already. I decide to seek my fortune in sitting in the luggage rack with a small space created by Chandran. I take off my sandals, and pull myself and sit, yes, Indian style. This bird’s eye view sees that space available has turned into wherever a human body will fit. The holy man in the luggage rack behind me has awoken and is now chanting. He is wrapped in brilliant yellow and orange. His soft chants are the delicate chorus to the harmony of cell phone ringing, the ping twang of Indian music, crying babies and a hundred people speaking Tamil.
My western idea of personal space now fully challenged, I now hear the delicate cry of coffeeeey, coffeeeeeeey. This familiar cry peppers every train stop. The coffee man carries a bag of paper cups and a large, hot metal tub of coffee and plys his way forcefully through the crowd. Where there was no space, enough is found for the coffee to make it through. I sip coffee for 5 rupee (about 13 cents). Meeting the coffee man from the other end of the compartment is the sound of Modigaal, Modigaaaaal- roasted peanuts in small cones of newspaper selling for 2 rupee. The peanuts sell well to the thick crowd and the frail woman selling them has a large grin on her face. As I munch on peanuts the air is soon full of peanut shell chaff, floating about from the wind rushing in from the windows. The chaff swirls like snow through the forest of arms and lands gently on the sleeping babies’ faces. I look around and perhaps now the train is full, at least for a few minutes.