Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas

We in Chennai had a wonderful Christmas. We started with dinner at the Marriott on Christmas Eve, so that Ashwin and Priya could enjoy the traditional spread not usually available at home here (roast turkey, ham, and to Priya's delight, lots of lovely imported cheeses). Then home to hang stockings with care, and yes, Santa does know how to find Chennai! Much happiness Christmas morning when this was discovered. Then, a lovely church service, tasty Christmas breakfast, and family over for fun, games, and the traditional Indian festive Christmas dish - Biryani - yum! Hope that all you blog followers enjoyed your holidays as much as we did - here are a few photos for you to enjoy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Boys are Back in Town. The Old Boys are Back in Town.

December 20Th, my Alma mater, Madras Christian College High School held an all school reunion, "The Old Boys Meet". It's been 28 years since I graduated. There were quite a lot of old boys , including a student who passed out in 1938. The years I spent at MCC (1973-1980) mean a lot to me, so it was great to meet my classmates after such a long time. As one would expect we have all aged; no hair , white hair, big belly syndrome etc. In spite of the difficulty recognizing them, it was a special to meet all my friends and get back in touch. The group pic includes Dr Clement Felix, our headmaster at the time, in the blue blazer. These days, most of my friend are into Facebook, and because of that I have 12 friends on my Facebook page. Its great to be part of the Facebook generation, though Leann feels it's a bit juvenile for 45 year old men to write on each others Facebook wall.
One of my favorite things about my school is the grounds. The main grounds have been left untouched - one field is used by the Pace Foundation to train the future cricket stars of India. It gives me great pleasure to watch Ashwin play soccer in my school, where he has coaching every weekend, and to see Priya run and enjoy all the open space - a rarity in Chennai!


Priya and cousin Joe, in a police box.
Leela's grandaughters Sangeeta and Shalini, with
grandneices/nephew Priya, Ashwin and Helen.
The dayam board and shells, with Priya throwing the shells, below.
December celebrations also included my Periamma's (translates into 'big mother', ie. my father's elder brother's wife or very close relative as we would say) 80Th birthday celebration. So the weekend of December 7Th, we joined cousins, aunts and uncles to celebrate in Vellore, a city a bit north of us in Tamil Nadu. About 50 people showed up and there were tributes, songs, dance and plenty of food.
A high point of the weekend was Saturday evening's game of Dayam which is a complicated game somewhat similar to "Sorry". 21 players, including Priya and Ashwin, started playing at 9 PM and continued until the game was declared a draw after 5 and a half hours of non-stop playing -though there were plenty of red towels throw in for challenges. I guess one could call it a success since everyone was on speaking terms after the play!
Happy Birthday Periamma.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Last Tuesday, the 9th was a national holiday here - Bakrid, also known as Eid-al-Adah , or the 'Festival of Sacrifice'. (It commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God was reportedly so pleased, he substituted a ram. Here, Muslims typically celebrate by killing a goat, and sharing with friends, family and the less fortunate).
Since we all had the day off, but weren't planning to sacrifice a goat, we decided to head out to the Courtyard Marriott, where we had heard that they had build a large gingerbread house in the lobby. Large it was - about the size of the average single car garage in Jamaica Plain. Ashwin and Priya were really impressed, and Priya managed to charm the staff into prying a couple of ornaments off the house for them to take home. We had a wonderful meal - there were both eastern and western items, including some favorites that are hard to come by here in S. India, cheese, salami and pizza!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Carols All Around

Christmas season continues apace here in Chennai - with lots of music! Sunday night the Christmas Choir from CSI Redeemer's Church put on its long rehearsed for carol service. Both the adult and the children's choir performed. Leann and Ashwin, respectively, have been practicing with their groups all fall. The music was wonderful (totally unbiased observation here) and a great time was had by all. Check out the photos at top of Leann and Ashwin in their 'rumba jazzy' Christmas choir attire. ("Rumba" means really, or very and "Jazzy" means jazzy in Tamil).
In addition to the concert, there have been "carol rounds". All the churches here seem to host these - our church sends out a group every night for a couple of weeks, who walk or ride in a van to homes of church families, covering a different neighborhood each night. By the end of the two weeks, every family in the church will have had carolers visit. Ashwin was part of the Sunday school group that caroled on the 5th of December. Leann was part of the English choir that covered the 15th and 17th. Both of us went from home to home, singing and overeating as we politely accepted the snacks that almost every home graciously offered. Ashwin's group didn't return until 2:30 in the morning! The older folks were in by 1am, as we cant stay out as late. (I'm sure, just the start of Ashwin's bedtime eclipsing mine!) Tonight, a group of carolers came to our house from the Lutheran church Prabhu's parents attend. From the perspective of both the caroler and the listener, this is a lovely tradition, enhanced by the balmy weather in the 70's!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas 2008

Christmas season has begun here - with a grand start at Ashwin and Priya's school. No politically correct celebrations in India.  One can expect exuberant celebrations from all religions during their respective festivals.  On December 3, there was a Christmas Pageant at school.   Priya was in a  100 student strong choir which included all the students of nursery and kindergarten classes. And they sang there hearts out. Ashwin was in the school play, "Follow the Star" and was the youngest member of the group. His selection may have been partly due to the fact that some of his teachers had seen him on TV when he was interviewed on the day of the US election. 
Last night Ashwin went carolling with his Sunday school group and returned home at 2 AM, with his pockets stuffed with candy.   Next week, there will be a Choir Concert by our church Christmas choir, which Leann is a part of. Then she will we going on carolling rounds a couple of nights as well.  (I don't know if she can stay awake)

Wedding Season

Winter is the busiest season for marriages in South India, and wedding parties are becoming regular events for us. Last week, we were invited for a special wedding ceremony by my colleague Dr Koka from Boston Children's Hospital. His niece, Sahi was getting married in Chennai. The reception was at a lovely wedding hall call AVM Rajeswari marriage hall . It was so nice to meet Dr Koka and family, and the food and music were great. In traditional south Indian style food was served on banana leaves and eaten with the right hand (no utensils). One of the photos above is of Leann, Ashwin and Priya digging in!
About ten days before the wedding, we were at an engagement party for Prabhu's cousin Jikki (in the photos at top, she's the woman in the lavender sari talking with Ashwin). She will be married in mid January. There was a celebration at the groom's family home in Tambaram, which is just south of Chennai. A large contingent of family and friends travelled there in a minibus. At the celebration, Ashwin and Priya were excited to be part of the procession bringing gifts to bless the betrothed - Priya carried fruits, Ashwin carried a platter of nuts and sweets - all traditional gifts given to wish for an abundant sweet life together. Then, there was a wonderful meal including the traditional festive dish, biryani, followed by music and singing. A great time was had by all!

There are a few photos above from both events

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cyclone Nisha

kidsinchennai would like to say thanks to all those who have expressed concern for our safety with the tragically still ongoing terrorist strikes in Mumbai. We are all fine, although of course saddened and worried.
We are having other, weather related difficulties - Cyclone Nisha has been causing havoc in Tamil Nadu, the state in which Chennai is located, for the past four days. Rain has been very heavy, and incessant and winds have been quite high at times. The naming of cyclones is quite recent ; from 2004 when 7 nearby countries gave name suggestions to the Indian Meteorological Dept.  Apart from the heavy downpour over the past three days at least 70 people have died so far. In Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu a record was broken for the most rainfall in a single day- 26 inches. Thousands of people have been evacuated following flooding of low lying areas in the state. There is flooding in parts of the Annanagar neighborhood where we live, but we are very fortunate to be in our dry second floor apartment and have limited interruption in electricity. Parts of the state lost power for 3 days. Due to the cyclone, schools throughout the city have been closed for the past 3 days . So Ashwin and Priya have been enjoying a mini Thanksgiving vacation here.
This along with the ongoing terrorist strike in Bombay are difficult times for India. Our thoughts are with all those affected by both natural and man made disasters.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wii Will Wii Will Rock You....

Once we made the decision to spend this year in India, Leann rashly promised Ashwin and Priya that we would get them a Nintendo Wii to play in India. At the time, of course, we didn't realize that Wii's are not sold here in India, and that it would have to be imported from the US. Leann brought the Wii safely to Chennai and it has certainly lived up to our expectations. Ashwin is clearly the expert in all games, although Priya excels in Wii boxing.
We recently had a minor, actually major Wii crisis when I hooked up the Wii console to a new converter (needed as power supplied in India is is 220 volts, not 110). In small letters it said on the converter "not to be used with computers ,TV " etc. But in keeping with my proud tradition of not reading instruction manuals I didn't read that, and proceeded to plug in the Wii. Needless to say, nothing worked. Ashwin was devastated. Leann looked like she wanted to string me up. Luckily I was able to track down a Wii expert here in Chennai, Mr Saravanan , the owner of a video game store called Game Shoppe. He was able to diagnose the problem (fortunately, only the adapter and power cord were fried) and to get a new power cord which rectified the problem. I have an uncomfortable feeling that this story will become part of family lore. Hope you enjoy the Wii pics.
Disclaimer: this blog is not being commercially supported by Nintendo (or anyone else, for that matter). We are working on creating interest in the product, so if anyone from Nintendo is following the blog and is interested in doing so, please let us know.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Infrastructure Problems

So, no major family events this week - no trips, weddings, or presentations (although Ashwin did have exams, and did very well). So, a word about the headaches of day to day life in India. (sorry, no photos here) This week has been rife with problems in day to day services, although most weeks are. The major telecommunications server was down for a few days, so no Internet service. Additionally, almost every day sees a power cut of a few hours - there is a perennial shortage of power here which has worsened in the past couple of months. We are typically without power for a few hours mid-morning every day. We consider ourselves lucky, however, as many homes have cuts a couple of times a day, often at very inconvenient times such as early in the morning and at dinner time. Also, it's much more of a problem for small businesses, folks who work from home, etc. Even some large businesses are affected - this week we read in the paper that one of the largest malls in Chennai has been without power from 10a-10p almost daily. They have a limited backup generator, but that only keeps some lights on - no AC, so as you can imagine, business is down tremendously! The final insult here was that on Wednesday, our tap water went dry. An explanation is in order here - we actually have FOUR types of water available at our apartment. 1 - bottled water for drinking, which is delivered every other day in 20l. bottles, at 70rs/bottle 2- tap water, which comes from the Corporation of Chennai. This is good for washing, bathing, etc, but should not be ingested unless boiled or filtered first, which leads to... 3 - filtered tap water. We have wall mounted filter which we use to filter some of the tap water (#2) for use in cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, rinsing dishes, etc. You could actually drink this water safely, but it has a rather brackish taste, due to the high saline content of the water, so for drinking, go to #1. (also, since the filter is electric powered, if the power is off, you cant use it...) 4-ground water - basically, an emergency backup tank under the apartment with ground/rain water. Can be used in urgent situations for washing/cleaning, but not clean, and only limited amounts available. So, what went this week was #2 (and also #3, since it's filtered #2). And why, you may ask, was there no water from the City? Well - it's a bit complicated, but basically boils down to the fact that instead of distributing the water equally, the city lets some people put their water access point lower on the pipe than other people. So, if you've got clout, or paid a big enough bribe, you get very good water pressure... if not, then your water may be just a trickle. Additionally, since the area that we live in is becoming much more developed, with individual homes being quickly replaced by multi unit buildings, there is a much greater demand for water. So, apparently this week someone upstream from us turned a big faucet on - and ours went off. Now the building is buying water and keeping it in a big tank, until the appropriate official can be bought off, and a new pipe laid. Talk about wasted resources!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spot Light 2008

Nov 14th, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's (Independent India's First Prime Minister) birthday, is celebrated as Children's Day in India to commemorate his love for children. All over Chennai there have been festivals, competitions, and other special events. At Jessie Moses school there was a week long celebration with special competitions to showcase the students talents. During the Spot Light 2008 Ashwin and Priya took part in various contests.
Ashwin came in 3rd in the poetry contest for his recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. Priya qualified for the finals but didn't finish in the top three in either Poetry or in the "fancy dress" category. The recited a poem by Ogden Nash and for the fancy dress contest played shoemaker's wife from 'The Shoemaker and the Elves'. Parents could attend either the preliminary or final rounds of competition - so Prabhu went for the prelims and Leann for the finals. "Fancy dress" (in which the children had to dress up as a story book character and then tell a little about them) was especially entertaining with a full complement of princesses, cap sellers, hunters(one with two live birds!), little pigs and a tortoise!
There was also a Children' s Day service at church and during this special service, Ashwin sang with the children's choir.
Happy Children's Day 2008.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Great Day!

The consul general, commenting on Obama's victory.
Ashwin and Priya with their candidate!
This morning we awoke early and plugged in our laptops. Early returns started trickling in about 0630, IST. At about 0800, instead of heading to school, we took Ashwin and Priya and headed off to the Taj Coromandel Hotel for an election open house given by the US Consulate. A large crowd of expats, NRI's, Indian schoolchildren, consulate personnel and other interested individuals filled the ballroom. We sat in the front row sipping tea and watching the results roll in, and were thrilled when at about 0930 Barack Obama was declared the victor. We stayed to watch his speech, and then went out for a celebratory lunch. There was a large crew of photographers and reporters at the event, and Ashwin was interviewed twice by TV crews. One was the local CNN outlet, so keep your eyes open!