The sometimes wacky, mostly wordy, frequently pictorial, blogdom of Mark Devereux

Posts tagged “India

I Will Be Organized!

When I say, “I will be organized”, I don’t mean that I’m going to pull up my socks on the subject or that I’m anticipating my 2015 New Years resolution or anything of the sort. It’s much more that I expect to BE organized – by certain types of people in our household who now reign as a majority.

You may remember my blog entry from  a couple of posts ago, that the foundation of the irony that Brita had lost her passport was that she’s usually more than a little particular that all things must go into their designated spots. I’m afraid to say that our new daughter may exceed Brita’s lofty standards and that all who may stand in her way with a more easy-going, devil-may-care attitude (ie. me) when it comes to things like clothes and toys being returned to their designated spots, are going to simply be run over. I’m already starting to find myself doing the head-shaking, rolling of eyes, and sighing that my father-in-law, Pete, has been forced to resort to for the past 50 years of parent-hood. I, however, have two of them!

A few symptoms for your perusal:

  • All crayons must at all times live either in their box or be being used for the purpose for which they were designed. Any time spent between those two things must be minimized to the extent possible;
  • When conducting activities such as using the toilet or washing one’s hands (hooray that these are both happening!), all things must happen with military precision and always in the same order. In particular, in no circumstances must one allow any parts of the toilet paper roll to hang more than 4.5 cm below the rest of the roll.
  • When one is focussed on eating one’s food, it is critical that all third parties should keep their hands off one’s cutlery and allow one to chase that wayward pea around the plate for as long as necessary. That pea needs to be delivered to its designated spot (ie. one’s mouth) as an entirely solo activity and, in the meantime, cannot be allowed to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary galloping around the plate.
  • When one is playing “Angry Birds” on the iPad, it is irrelevant that your bird is being catapulted in entirely the wrong direction, assistance is not requested nor accepted. It’s a bit of a quandary as to whether keeping the birds neatly lined up on the firing line and ignoring the pigs entirely (they’re neatly organized on their own perches) is preferable to hearing the sounds of success generated when those mocking and green piggy-wiggy-woos are knocked off their high horses.

All kidding aside, she’s been fantastic over the 5 days we’ve now had her to ourselves. It makes me slightly nervous that she’s been so easy with none of the “attachment” issues that are so common with adopted children. Long may it continue!

Her only, slightly odd, quirk is that she absolutely hates having a shower but seems not to mind either the rain or leaping into a swimming pool. Stick her in the shower (irrelevant as to whether it’s a glorious rain-shower or the hand-held version – we have both in the hotel), and you’d think the world was imminently coming to an end and that she was weeping tears for the entire planet at once! I suspect all this is because she’s used to the traditional Indian-style of filling up a bucket with water and using a mug to pour it over yourself. I will find out whether my suspicions are right this evening – here’s hoping! She also eats like a fiend (I mean really quickly, and a lot, as if she’s worried there won’t be another meal) so we’re actively trying to slow her down and serve her meals in courses.

On the language front she’s doing rather well. We’ve come to a negotiated settlement where we learn some basic Oriya (pronounced Uriya) words such as Voka (hungry), Khai-bu (do you want to eat?), Soy-bu (do you want to sleep?), Jhaddha (toilet), Tiké-ruho (wait), etc… In exchange, her most used English words are “elephant”, “pool”, “please”, “yay”, “hey”, “one-two-three”, and “what a good idea!”. I’m not kidding about the last one….

Oh yeah – the passport booklets have, apparently, arrived at the local passport office so we’re now hoping we can get Rani’s in the next day or so. We’re scheduled to head back to Delhi on Saturday and get her medical checkup for Canadian Immigration done on Monday, so am really hoping the passport arrives before then! What a good idea!

A few photos from the last few days (all you Facebook types will already have seen most of them).

Early marathon training

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Breakfast Hangout

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Loving her first day in a swimming pool with Mum

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There’s something going on in that wee noggin

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Poolside cabanas are worth getting excited about!

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Butter Chickens and Bureaucrats

That groggy moment immediately after one is roused from a deep sleep is always filled with the odd sensation of not quite knowing whether you’re still in the dream world or back to the physical. A couple of such moments will bookend this first blog entry since early 2012 (see below).

I was certain I was having one of my more bizarre dreams last week when I was confronted with a wild-haired, stark-naked woman screaming incomprehensibly at me from above. Depending upon the progression of the dream, this scenario can end up rather well or result in some nightmarish, weapon-wielding disaster. This one looked like heading into the latter territory. One usually hopes that the brain deals with these types by shooing them away and providing a more serene replacement. My brain clearly wasn’t up to the task as the apparition continued yelling and, surprisingly to me, the dreamworld morphed into the reality as I discovered that my lovely wife (I need to compensate for the earlier description) seemed to be repeating, with a staccato regularity, “I can’t find my passport, I can’t find my passport, etc, etc….” For you musical types out there, it appeared to be in 4-4 time….

Brita was having one of her “waking up every couple of hours” nights and, this time, had started to wonder whether the Indian consular peeps had mistakenly given her the wrong visa (nothing like drowsiness to get the brain moving in odd directions). Just to make sure, she’d hauled herself out of bed to check. Being a AAA personality type, she always keeps things organized and in the same place. Well…needless to say there was no passport to be found. While I had continued to snooze happily, she’d searched everywhere she could think of in the house – to no avail. Right about this time, my nightmare started to unfold….

Hauled out of bed, I stumbled to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Why would I brush my teeth at 3am? Ahh…I might have been drowsy but still realized I needed to buy time to work out how to calm down the mad woman – who was still running around starkers with her Medusa hair! There was a lot of “breathe”, “panicking is not going to help us find it”, “we’ll work it out – and, yes, I know we’re leaving in two days”, “did you remember to breathe – you’re looking a tad blue”…. After five minutes of that, I pottered downstairs where the first thing I did was to look in my drawer to confirm I had MY passport (whew). Roughly about then, I hear the “Oh my god, I’ve found it!”…yeah, I thought to myself, that’s a surprise!

I went back upstairs to find Brita implementing her new found yogic skills (“child’s pose”, to be specific) and hunched over on the carpet. “Umm…for some reason, it was in here…”

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My freshly-brushed teeth and I went back to bed…muttering to ourselves, “for better or for worse, for better or for worse….”.

A week later, here I sit in sweltering Delhi (40’ish degrees with the humidity levels implying impending rain – but not raining), after having spent a lovely few days in London, over two years since that last blog post, and over three since we started our adoption journey.

Well – for those of you who don’t know (this would exclude all Facebook friends of mine or Brita’s or friends of our friends, and probably friends of theirs – hence, it feels like thousands of people), the time has finally come to meet our new daughter, Rani. We get introduced to her at an orphanage in Bhubaneswar, India on Thursday morning – let the mayhem begin!

It’s certainly been a long journey full of twists and turns, ranging from ridiculous decisions by the Indian central adoption agency to, initially, refer us to an orphanage that had no children under the age of 12 and, of course completely ignoring our request to be referred to an orphanage in the North-East (see previous blog post); to state adoption committees forgetting to meet for months on end, to local courts issuing orders and then going on holidays for 6 weeks before typing them up. Our host, Percy, has been incredibly helpful in sorting all this out – and, it’s no exaggeration to say that, if it weren’t for him, we’d have packed in this process long ago!

Now that we’ve got the Indians mostly under control (I know I’m tempting fate here), we’re dealing with the equally (hard to believe, I know) bureaucratic types on the Canadian end. This morning provides a fine example of the latter’s aspirations to compete at the top-levels of the bureaucratic Olympics. The chronology went as follows:

  • Arrived at Gate 1 of the Canadian High Commission – told that we needed to walk around the rather large compound to Gate 2 instead.
  • Arrived at Gate 2 a few sweaty minutes later – oh, says the guard – you’re Canadian citizens – you need to go to Gate 1.
  • Arrived back at Gate 1 a few definitely sweatier minutes later – oh, says guard number 1, why are you here again? I tell him that guard number 2 sent us back and show him a letter I’d prepared with file numbers, etc….. Oh yes, adoption-related? Ahh – no, no, no…you must go to Gate number 2 and I will escort you.
  • Arrived back at Gate 2 for the second time, much sweatier than before and significantly more irritated. Negotiations commence between guards, hushed words and furtive glances are exchanged in our direction. They agree that this is where we should be. Tell us again, what you want? I reaffirm that all I want to do is confirm our documents have arrived and that we’re still waiting for the last couple from the Indians and, finally, that I want the “medical test” package sent out to the doctor we’ve selected from their list.
  • Finally, understanding. A form is then produced. This form is to be filled out so that it can be walked to “Counter Number 5”, where a woman is already sitting, so that it can then be presented to her to determine whether she will bother to see us. I should point out that this was the massive lineup that existed while all this was going on.

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  • Form filled in while standing at the counter 5 feet away from Counter Number 5, handed to the guard who then walks those 5 feet to hand it to the afore-mentioned woman. Shortly thereafter, a booming voice comes over the public address system announcing that I should proceed to Counter Number 5.
  • Meet nice woman who has nothing do do with making any decisions whatsoever but solely exists to shield the people that do from anyone who might assert that those latter types could make the effort to meet with people who contribute to the tax revenue that pays their salaries. We find out that they’re ok with the delays in getting them the final documents (whew) and that she can’t tell us when they will send us the medical testing package. I point out that since it’s coming by email, why don’t they just do it now so I can confirm that I’ve received it in 30 seconds?. She says she can’t confirm anything (even though it’s a stated part of their process) without speaking to the Visa officer in charge of our file. She phones him but gets no response. Please wait outside – shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes. Sweating on the park bench, sweating on the park bench, tempted to walk back their and say “just email the damn thing, you silly twits” but decide that might be counter-productive.
  • More sweating…ladedadeda….
  • Brita decides that all this sweating has not mitigated her urge to pee – she heads over and asks guard number 2 as to whether they have facilities she can use. She’s told that she should cross the road and go to the park. She comes back and sits down.
  • Finally, finally, booming voice calls me back to the counter (still not another soul waiting in line). She confirms that the visa officer will look at the file and send us an email in due course. Really? Fortunately, she also says it should happen in the next couple of days. That dissipates my urge to yell and tell them that I’d fire them all if they worked for me… The email actually arrived a few hours later, so yelling urges have been quelled.
  • Called our loyal driver to come back and pick us up and, while waiting, one of the local birds decides that my head would provide a good aiming point for dropping one of its bombs. Brita, fortunately, has some tissues in her purse and entertains the masses at the bus stop across the road while wiping the offending stuff off my follicles.

As I’d been awake since 3am with the infernal jetlag, a few coffees were in order while we were in town. After falling asleep on the way home, I piled into bed for a well-needed nap.

Oh, deja vu! I was sure I was still dreaming when I heard Brita say that Percy had phoned to let us know that Rani’s Indian passport had been delayed (was meant to have been issued today) because….wait for it….the local passport office had run out of the special paper they use in passports! Hahahaha…you really do have to laugh….does that really happen? With any luck, they’ll find some more paper by Friday….

My new default understanding will be to remind myself that, when I’m in that groggy moment between sleep and awake, no matter how bizarre my dreams may seam, chances are that they’re the reality. Now, that’s a scary thought….

We’re off to Bhubaneswar tomorrow so the excitement is growing. We’ll meet Percy’s friend, Abinash, at our hotel tomorrow evening as he’s been sorting out the last details at the orphanage for us (a huge help). Then, off we go at 10am on Thursday morning for the big event….

By the way, London was great fun on the way over. We stayed with my cousin Imran and his wife, Alison, who were fantastic hosts and great conversationalists! Since everyone likes photos and this blog entry has been wordy, wordy, wordy, here are a few from our trip to get here and a couple from Percy’s house in Delhi.

Au revoir, Vancouver:

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Hangin’ out in London:

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Probably the last time Brita looks quite so put together! Hahaha….this was in Imran and Ali’s lovely garden:

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Percy’s lovely property in South Delhi:

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A couple of the galloping doggy baas (Anokhi and Chiku) on a pre-Monsoon evening:

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I’m Back!

There’s nothing like a bit of R&R to get the writing juices flowing again – and glorious Maui is just the place to do it. Simply stepping off the plane is enough to allow yogic deep breathing to come to you without effort. I really have to work out how to make a living while spending 4 or 5 months of every year here. When I say “here”, I don’t mean the touristy hells of Kihei or Kaanapali. Rather, get me to the gorgeous areas on the slopes of Haleakala, surrounded by verdant growth, “surfing” goats producing cheese, Buddha-infested lavender farms, etc…. We’ve stayed in the area twice now and it has completely won us over! Here’s our friendly Buddha surveying the vista below him:

The Buddha meditating at the Lavender Farm in Maui

Not to create too obvious a segue, the Buddha’s approach to life has been somewhat similar to ours since the last blog post went up on December 2010. Perhaps that’s a bit of stretch but we’ve tried to take life as it comes and focus on the things we can control rather than getting stressed about what we can’t. We’ve both changed jobs and have moved on from the idea that we’re going to be able to produce offspring ourselves. Brita’s thrilled with her one-year contract with Vancity (she’s in charge of their community engagement) and I’m now running a public company focussed on investments in energy-efficient green technologies.

We’ve also decided we’re going to adopt!

Actually, we made the adoption decision about a year ago but (good thing we’re being Buddha-like), it’s taken until last week before our application was submitted. It might be that spending large amounts of time in the sun has addled our brains, but we’ve decided to stick with India as the fulcrum of our efforts. Not surprisingly, in the year since the decision, there’s been a fair amount of “what to do’s” and “WTFs”. We’d gone through all the home visits (8); put together reams of information on income and banking; explained why Brita likes gardening better than arithmetic; why Macs are better than PCs; and many other highly consequential bits of information on our not terribly-exciting lives (must admit, I forgot to mention that Twitter is the best thing ever!)…so that we were ready to have the whole lot submitted by July. Inevitably, the Indian central adoption agency decided that they had far too much of a backlog (500) to possibly take any further applications…until September 30th. A collective “oy vey” was uttered but what’s a couple of months in the grand scheme of things. Of course, we knew better and, sure enough, September 30th became December 31st…then January 31st.

Miraculously, January 31st has held up but things are never as simple as they seem. The Indians have completely changed the system (of course, they announced this only a few days before they opened up applications). Now, everything must be submitted over the web on the first of every month – BUT they will only accept 100 new applications per month. Given the entire process has been shut down for 7 months, I could only imagine getting ours in as part of the first 100 was going to be a bit of a lottery. Fortunately, I gave our agency a call and reminded them that 10am Indian Standard Time was actually 8:30pm the evening before in Vancouver. Good old Fonnie stayed late at the office and hit the “submit” button on the nose of 8:30pm on January 31st….and much to everyone’s amazement, we made it into the first batch.

So…we’re in – a huge step!

We’ve asked to adopt from a remote Indian state (Mizoram) which is actually located between Bangladesh & Burma. Kids from this area, apparently, have a difficult time getting adopted as they don’t look particularly Indian. Since one has to have a connection to the country to adopt (except in very limited circumstances) and there seems to be a social stigma (amongst Indians) about admitting that their children are adopted, kids from Mizoram haven’t been very popular. We have no such issues, so bring ’em on we say!

Since no one (including us) had a clue where Mizoram is, here’s Google leaping to the rescue:

Who knows what other mayhem will ensue once we get into the process but, at least, we’ve wedged a foot in the proverbial door! I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. Here’s an example of kids from the area…cute!

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Will update when we hear more… In the meantime, the Maui sun is spectacular…especially with Brita in the pic!

Brita on Baldwin Beach


And Out of the Chaos Came…

So…we have good news! After far too many days of me injecting her with hypodermic syringes, a Baker’s Dozen of eggs plus one (ie. 14), were extracted from Brita on Saturday afternoon. Of these, we were told (24 hours later) that 10 of them had fertilized – which is a pretty good percentage. As of 48 hours into their petrie dish holiday, 8 were still going strong. We should be hearing one further update before we hop on the plane this evening. The plan is to keep them swimming away in the petrie dish for 4 or 5 days (depending upon quality of the embryos), then choose the best to insert into Leena. We should know the results (hopefully, a positive pregnancy test) by December 21st or so… Fingers crossed!

The Adiva Clinic in Delhi touts itself as being a “world class” institution – no doubt, to soothe the frantic nerves of any westerner who is considering crossing its threshold. From our experience, this is well, at best, a hope and a prayer, rather than the reality. There is no question that the medical expertise (at least, with our Dr. Banerjee) is as good as you’re going to find anywhere. She gets a ringing, unreserved, endorsement! The rest of the experience, on the other hand (comparing it to our previous experience at PCRM in Vancouver), doesn’t come remotely close to a top clinic in the West. In other words, if you’re going to go…expect India with all its madness…and you’ll be fine!

Frankly, the place is completely chaotic and, for the most part, the staff seems to only have a vague understanding of what’s going on and when. Almost nothing of detail is communicated in advance and, when it is, rarely is any context provided for what needs to be done and why. I suppose part of the problem is that many of them don’t speak English, which would be fine if the target market was mainly local – but crazy if attracting foreigners is the objective. Brita had some “fun” herself – so check out her latest blog entry for details. My experience was mostly about waiting (hours….) interspersed with providing my “genetic contribution” in somewhat trying circumstances. While Brita was getting her prep-work done, I was signing, for about the 3rd time, the same set of consent documents which I’d reviewed about 30 minutes earlier. Apart from the fact that they should be presenting you with these documents a couple of weeks earlier (when the hormone stimulation was started) rather than when the extraction is about to commence and you have no option but to sign…., they insisted on signatures appearing in places where the documents didn’t even call for them…ahh well.

I can live with disorganized documents but the “contribution” experience certainly didn’t leave me looking for a satisfactory cigarette. One of the staff beckoned me over to his office and handed me a sealed plastic collection container and asked me to write our names on the label (try doing this when it’s already stuck onto the container). Then, he escorted me next door (to the scary looking room mentioned in the last post). It turns out that this room is only the outer room – the real action happens behind the inner door. By the way, the hallway outside was lined with interested spectators with nothing much to do except cheer on the hapless participants. Back to the narrative: the inner door was locked when we arrived. So…instead of assuming that someone might be “busy”, he proceeded to wiggle the handle and bang on the door…repeatedly! This, as you can imagine, did not do anything for my confidence that I would be left in a serene state myself. Finally, he gave up…suggested I just wait until whoever it was came out and then left me to lean casually in the doorway, nodding politely to the peanut gallery. A quick game of “Madden NFL” on the iPhone seemed in order…

Finally, the inner sanctuary opened and, much to my surprise, out walked a woman. No idea WHAT she was doing in there… So…in I went, expecting (half-heartedly, I must admit) to find the usual paraphernalia one finds when required to perform in such unusual circumstances. No such luck! Instead, I found a small bed with rumpled sheets (ugh), a small tv with a DVD player (empty)…and an attached bathroom. The only upside was that the contraption with the stirrups was safely in the outer room. That about covers the visual landscape but it does nothing to provide an impression of the soundscape which enveloped every corner of this small heaven. Bollywood music thumped from the left, loud voices of clerks came from the right, shrill complaints of waiting patients & families trailed in from behind. They all seemed to reside in a slightly different octave from each other so one got the impression one was living Pink Floyd’s “wall of sound”. Having said all that, performance was imperative, so I locked the door and told myself that any distractions were mere crumbs to be ground under my feet! Focus needed to be the order of the day so I set off (metaphorically) on the path….and all was going to plan…until…bang, bang, bank, knock, knock, knock….wiggle the doorknob, wiggle the doorknob, bang, bang, bang! Seriously! A loud “HELLO!”, followed by an “OI!”, and an “EXCUSE ME” followed in rapid succession from my lips. A “BUGGER OFF YOU IDIOT” was waiting in the wings should another volley of knocking have commenced. Fortunately, for both me and the fool outside, there were no further intrusions into my karmic space and, having done my best to eradicate all hostile thoughts, and summoned every meditation trick I could remember, I managed to produce the medically required stuff in record time. Needless to say, I was not in the usual blissful mood usually experienced after such exertions when I emerged from the inner sanctum. Of course, the outer door was wide open and my fascinated fans were all agog at my re-emergence. On top of that, the guy who’d provided me with the sample container had gone for lunch (& no one had replaced him) so I had to hunt down someone else to ensure that the valuables were properly put away in readiness for completing their fertilization duties… Mind-boggling!

Shortly after I’d found a seat in an incredibly crowded lobby (I find it amazing that entire families seem to accompany a patient to this clinic – so, of course, there’s almost nowhere to sit), Brita showed up in a hospital gown (and a most attractive cap). I don’t know who designed this building but walking prepped patients through a crowded lobby seems like a particularly daft idea. At least I could confirm to her that I’d done my bit and she whispered something about an odd barber experience she’d just endured (see her blog for details). Then ensued a few hours of reading & playing games on the iPhone while observing all sorts of entertainment in the lobby – complaining patients, a kid attempting a cartwheel, what seemed like a family reunion…frankly, I was expecting a herd of goats to pop by at any moment. Why they can’t restrict visitors to one or two per patient, especially with limited seating, I have no idea. Here’s a little snippet of the view from my top-secret spy cam:

A couple of hours later, I was told to pop into one of the ground-floor offices where Dr. Banerjee would join me shortly to provide an update. She turned up about 10 minutes later and gave me the good news of the 14 eggs that had been retrieved plus instructions for Brita’s post-operation medication. What I didn’t know at the time was that, while the good Dr. B and I were discussing eggs and meds, Brita had been rolled out of the Operating Theatre, down the elevator, and out into the, now famous, lobby. She, in her half-drugged state, was, fortunately, quite amused at this since we’d seen exactly the same scene being played out with a distraught American woman just a couple of days earlier. The attendants, like on that occasion, seemed to be completely confused as to what to do with the patient and, eventually, after the attendant crowds had seen their fill, wheeled her back into the elevator and took her upstairs. What’s amazing was that we’d mentioned the American woman’s experience to Dr. Banerjee who had, immediately, phoned the responsible party and told them that anything like that was completely inappropriate and shouldn’t happen again. Yet, here we were only two days later….maybe that’s why the crowds show up! Brita tells me she was peering around in her hazy state looking, in vain, to see where I was- no doubt ready to pose for a pic!

I was finally summoned to go and see the recovering patient about an hour later – when she was actually in a rather decent recovery room. God knows why she’d had to have the building tour first, but she was looking quite chipper when I found her:

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A celebration was definitely in order once we heard that all had been successful. Brita was feeling a bit “off” after the surgery so she stayed in bed while I went off to check out the Asian Tour Event (the Delhi Open) being played at the Delhi Golf Club. This was Englishman Paul McGinley teeing off in front of some of the very cool monuments the golf course is built around.

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There’s plenty of wildlife around the course (I gather cobras are considered a hazard in the jungle – but not sure how many penalty strokes one gets) but the most colourful of the bunch has got to be this fellow and his kin.

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That evening Percy treated us (and Aprajita) to a fabulous dinner at a fusion restaurant called the Indian Accent (it’s in a boutique hotel called The Manor). The food, and the company, of course, was terrific! I do have to mention one particular appetizer for which I hold a particularly fond spot. A popular street food in Calcutta is the “Puchka“. These are puffed, crispy balls stuffed with a spicy mixture (usually potato based), then filled with a tamarind-like sauce. You pop the whole thing in your mouth…and wait for the flavour to explode! Given my immune system has long-ago given up any hope of surviving an experience with Calcutta street food, imagine my delight when a seriously up-market version showed up on the Indian Accent menu! They were awesome!

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It’s time to hit the road on the long flights home. First, a 5 hour jaunt to Shanghai, then another 10+ to Vancouver. Somehow, I seem to have started to catch a cold before I get on the plane, rather than after! Here’s hoping I can leave it on this side of the International Date Line…

[Editor’s Note: Hot off the press…the 8 little buggers are still going strong on Day 3…woohoo!]


Back to the old Hometown!

What’s the old adage? You can never go home (or something like that)? Over the course of time, things change…and it’s never quite the same, or so “they” say. It’s especially tricky for those of us who started off in one part of the world and then ended up on completely the other side. Where really is home? Frankly, for me, Canada feels like home since I’ve been there since I was 11 and, given my advancing years, that comprises the vast majority of my life. However, those early, formative years in Calcutta still ring out with vague memories of early mornings at the racecourse with my Dad and far too many smacks with the bamboo cane by Miss. Higgins at the nursery school bearing her name (I’m sure I hold the smack record!).

Since we’re in India for a good spell, and we have some time before the treatment starts (turns out we had more time than we thought, given the substituting surrogates), Brita and I decided it was time to pay a visit. We’d visited the Calcutta airport, while flying between Bagdogra Airport (Darjeeling) and Bombay, during on our honeymoon in 2006 but that was the extent of Brita’s exposure to the city. This was Brita’s third trip to India so it was high time she visited the old hometown. Fortunately, they rolled out the welcome mat (it was hard to miss as, in an exemplary urban planning move, they placed the sign precisely where the traffic bottleneck happens when leaving the airport).

Back to the old hometown!

We’d caught the 6:25am flight out of Delhi because I wasn’t going to visit Calcutta without going to the races and, much to my horror, I discovered that this was the one week where there was no racing on the weekend. That meant getting into town in time to catch the Wednesday afternoon races. Only after we got there and were chatting to our gracious host ,who happened to be the current Chairman of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (Cyrus Madan), did we find that some ex Chief Minister had just died so they’d cancelled the previous weekend’s racing and rescheduled it for the weekend we were going to be here anyway. Ahh well…it’s India…. Nevertheless, it was a great afternoon at the track – I was so busy soaking up the atmosphere of the place that I didn’t bother to buy a program nor place a single bet! On top of that our new friend Gautam (moved here from San Fran) handed me a roll of the most-excellent street food ever invented…the shockingly good, Calcutta invention, the “Kathi Kebab”. If I can get one of these guys to move to Vancouver, we’d make a fortune selling these on Burrard or after the bars close! One bite and you can’t help but have a smile on your face….

Ok...occasionally I'm forced to wear a suit!

The afternoon at the races should have prepared us for what was to come – overwhelming hospitality wherever we went in this city. From Cyrus (even though he was busy doing his work) taking the time to chat to us, to Gautam sharing the afore-mentioned kebab, to Ram Gupta buying us a drink 5 minutes after being introduced, to Harish & Kavitha inviting us to dinner and a city tour after chatting with us for 10 minutes…it went on and on! That same evening we were picked up by my old friend Aditya to be taken to dinner at his place – where two other friends I hadn’t seen in 36 years were waiting to join us. Apart from the great fun of reconnecting with people you haven’t seen since you were 11 years old, our concerns about finding things to do for the following 4 days evaporated in the space of about 10 minutes. They all wanted us to come over to their respective places, take us out for dinner, hang out during the day, etc, etc, etc….and suddenly we were worried that we couldn’t remember what we had committed to and when! This was the four of us…admittedly, looking decidedly longer in the tooth than when we last saw each other…(at least when they last saw me).

Aditya, Anjali, "Tunna" & me

We spent our first night at the idyllic Tollygunge Club (warning – it is the usual terrible website). This place is an amazing oasis from the teeming milieu outside. You can play golf or tennis, ride a horse, swim in one of two pools, and be pummelled from head to toe while being slathered in mind-boggling amounts of oil at the Aryuvedic Spa…all in the same day if you wish. On top of all that, as a guest, you can take advantage of the club-subsidized prices in all the restaurants (seriously cheap!). Our favourite was a breakfast of “Akuri” (spicy) eggs with hot-buttered toast…ahhh….

View from the old clubhouse

Another reason we made sure we could get at least one night at the Tolly was that I wanted to show Brita where my family first got into horse racing. In the ’50’s and ’60’s, Tolly used to host amateur horse races (presumably starting when club members wanted to race their horses against each other). It grew into quite an organized spectacle with a racetrack encircling the grounds, a grandstand…and, of course, bookies. All of that is now gone (mainly due to land being grabbed by the city for the subway line in the 1970’s) and, what used to be a 9 hole golf course has spread itself out and grown to 18 holes. The place where the grandstand was, is now part of the hotel complex but they’ve kept the old winning post (visible in the bushes in the photo below).

The old "homestretch" of the racecourse - the winning post is still there in the right trees.

The central and southern part of Calcutta is the part I’m most familiar with, having been the area I spent the most time wandering around as a kid. The actual core of the city isn’t that big so I still have a pretty good idea how to get around. The main street for social things like restaurants and bars is Park Street, with some famous older places such as the Swiss confectioner, Flury’s, and a bar which has been around since the 1960’s (Trinca’s). Flury’s used to supply the amazing Easter Eggs my mother used to ship up to Darjeeling for me when I was in boarding school…they were hollow chocolate eggs (probably 6 inches long) filled with yet more small chocolates and covered in a fancy marzipan coating. That was heaven for a 7 year old! Like many other parts of the city, there are some great heritage buildings on Park Street (some of them could be in better shape!) from the 300 years of Brit colonial rule.

Park Street

Of course, the one thing I had to do (especially to re-live old memories) was to wake up at the crack of dawn and head over to the racecourse to watch the horses working out. Cyrus, being the great host that he is, picked me up at 6:15. Calcutta often has a light mist in the early mornings during the winter (combined with the usual smog) and that makes the whole place glow with the sunrise. The light, along with the sound of galloping hooves, is such a great memory for me! This was taken from the trainer’s stand with the Victoria Memorial (Warning! Rubbishy website #2) looming in the distance.

Calcutta - Morning Trackwork

After walking out into the area where the horses warm up before their works and chatting to various of the locals, we made our way over to where the majority of horses are stabled. Horses and grooms (called “syces”) have to be nimble of foot as they have to cross a rather busy road to get to their stables at Hastings. These have been around for a long time and have that patina that seems to come to old buildings which have seen hundreds of monsoons. I spent many great hours here as a kid – riding around on horses as they were being led about, helping to feed them (while trying to retain all ten of my fingers)…and sipping hot tea out of very environmentally-friendly mud cups!

Racehorse stables at Hastings

Our final dinner in Calcutta was eaten at what’s commonly referred to as a dhaba. These are usually restaurants located at truck-stops or attached to a gas station and are open 24-hours. Unlike the usual truck-stops at home (read greasy-spoons), these often have food every bit as good and fresh as you’d find in fine restaurants. New friends, Harish and Kavitha, showed us around their lovely farm near the airport (after a night-time tour of the city), then took us to a dhaba nearby. The food was amazing – kebabs, rotis, etc…fresh and hot! Definitely one of the best meals we’ve had while in India.

Being hosted by some new friends Kavitha and Harish

The last, but certainly not least, trip down memory lane was to go and visit my old nursery/elementary school. Miss. Higgins (of the afore-mentioned penchant for introducing bamboo to my outstretched palm) had a school on New Road, to which I used to hike over every day. Tunna, Aditya and myself headed over to have a look on Saturday morning but, much to our chagrin, we couldn’t actually get inside the main building. At least we had a poke around the grounds (it’s amazing how much bigger you remember things from your childhood) and had a chance to reminisce about all the trouble we used to get into!

My nursery school on New Road - Higgins School!

Our old house was just up the street and around the corner on Diamond Harbour Road. I’d seen the old place a couple of times since we’d left in 1974 but it’s really going to seed now. The stately old red brick is crumbling, the front gate looks like it’s about to fall off, the garage has been turned into a shop and funny bits of black plastic are hanging from windows. It’s all rather sad, really, and I’d expect some developer to knock it down and put up an expensive set of flats in the near future (assuming archaic state rules allow the landlord to convince the tenants to leave). Having said all that, the old place looks a bit artsy in black and white…

Everything looks better in Black and White!

It may not be the most trendy city in the country, nor the most hip, nor the commercial or political capital anymore, but, for me, Calcutta is the big city with the most soul. Between its gorgeous buildings, hospitable people, and its well-earned reputation as being the intellectual capital of the country, it’s definitely my, admittedly biased, favourite. On top of that, I love the fact that the place is flooded with thousands of Ambassador cars (mostly taxis) all scuttling about on their ancient, twisted axles, no doubt hoping that they can find a role to play in the 21st century.

Inside of a Calcutta taxi

Yup…they’re probably right when they say you can never go home – especially after all these years. On the other hand, it makes a visit so much more rewarding!

PS: For all the Calcutta pics, check out my FlickR Album


Visa Shenanigans

I’m sure all of you have experienced that moment where the palpable tension between two extremes of action gives you the feeling of being the rubber band stretched between outstretched arms. Just such an instant permeated my being at approximately 10am last Friday as I leaned over the “screening table” at the front of the Vancouver branch of the Indian Consular Services while listening to the very well-meaning instructions of a friendly Sikh gentleman examining my, supposedly straight-forward, application for a tourist visa to India. Fortunately for the likelihood of my long-term success in this venture, I opted for the “let me clarify what you’re looking for” approach rather than leaning across and giving his whiskers a good tweak!

You may well wonder what could have brought the otherwise calm, cool & collected (well, mostly) me to this state of emotional upheaval over a couple of pages of documents. So…here’s the thing…

Brita and I had prepped our visa applications depending upon the published requirements for Canadians visiting India. No worries on any count: filled in the application form, stuck on the correct size photo, brought our current Canadian passports…and showed up with smiles on our faces. All things we’d done before with no issues.

Brita breezed through our friendly Sikh pre-check with no problems whatsoever – except the usual type of silliness such as not writing “n/a” in places where items called for it – even though the instructions at the top of the form insisted that’s precisely what one should do. Oh no, insisted our friend, please cross out “n/a” and write “no” or “none”. C’est la vie…minor gripes…

I, too, was cruising through the pre-check with admirable speed until our friend pointed a long, skinny finger at the section on the application form which required you to fill in how you acquired Canadian citizenship. The options were either “by birth” or “naturalized”. Since I was born in India, the obvious answer was “naturalized”. “Aha”, exclaimed my friend, “you must fill in a different form, only…and you must surrender your Indian passport!” I explained to him that I was only a wee fellow when I arrived in Canada and travelled on my mother’s passport – so no passport to surrender! “Oh…no problem, sir,” came the response, you can swear an affidavit telling  your story and fill in this form”.

Good God! Putting aside the obvious response that one cannot surrender a passport one has never had…the whole situation is mind-bogglingly ridiculous. Indian law, way back then and now, states that as soon as an Indian citizen acquires the citizenship of another country, his Indian citizenship ceases. The fact that I’ve presented them my Canadian passport (hence, a citizen of that country) since 1982 on my first trip as an adult (ok…pimply teen) to India you’d think they’d have worked out over the course of the subsequent 5 or 6 trips that I’m Canadian, Canadian, Canadian, Canadian…and, perhaps, even if I’d had an Indian passport of my own, that in the intervening 36 years, I may not have it anymore! Even more amusing is that in the affidavit they want me to swear saying that the never-existing Indian passport has been lost, they want me to attach copies of the important pages of that passport as an Exhibit. Hahaha….oh dear! Fortunately, for me, my mother is one of those uber-organized types and scanned the relevant pages of her passport eons ago – and, luckily, before it was consumed in their house fire of 2003.

So, while Brita waited patiently for the next consular officer to take her one step closer to getting on the plane, I beat a hasty, cursing, retreat to my office where I proceeded to draft the afore-mentioned affidavit (actually a Statutory Declaration under the BC Evidence Act…but I didn’t dare try to explain that to the consular types). My mother’s brilliant scan of her passport, plus one of my current one and, finally, a scan of my Canadian citizenship card will be attached as exhibits and sworn black & blue in front of my friend Geoff at precisely 12:40pm on Tuesday afternoon. Oh yeah, and they’d like a $20 money order (thank you very much) for their trouble…

Other than the irony of having someone born in India have to produce vastly more paperwork than someone who wasn’t – purely to visit the place, apparently, they are unable to give me a single-entry tourist visa – it MUST be multiple entry…even though still only for 6 months. I could have asked…but…really….

I wonder – after I’ve submitted all the relevant (and hopefully, approved) documentation tomorrow, will they record the event in some sort of a database or will they ask me to produce  & relinquish the same non-existent Indian passport next time I apply for a visa?

I refuse to think about it – begone rubber bands, bring back the zen….


And so it begins…

Getting started in writing anything always seems to be the most difficult part and, in that vein, I’ve been trying to find a triggering event to get things kicked off. Of course, given the centre-stage the country seems to be holding (for good and bad) these days (the Commonwealth Games being the most obvious example), India provided the kick in the writing pants required!

Before I get to that silly tale, and for posterity’s sake as well as a good excuse to insert a pretty pic, I would like to announce that the day I began my blog was a depressingly blah, cloudy autumn day in Vancouver with an expected high in the mid-teens (centigrade, thank God!). So here we go, the blog’s first official pic, taken with the massive effort of slipping on my very ugly green “crocs”, taking two steps onto the back deck, kneeling down, fending off two curious cats, all the while wondering whether “macro” settings on cameras were a myth. Thankfully, the answer to the last is a decided no!

Fall in earnest...

Okay then, the preliminaries having been dispensed with, here’s the latest scoop!

Some of you already know, and those that don’t are going to find out now, that my wife Brita & I have been trying (horribly unsuccessfully) to produce some offspring for the last couple of years. This has involved bits that have been a lot of fun (obviously)…and those that really haven’t been very nice at all. We’ve gone through two full Invitro cycles, the first of which succeeded initially but ground to a halt after six weeks. The second, much to our great annoyance, didn’t work at all. It appears, from the advice of prominent medicos, that the problem may occur during the embryo implanting process – which means that going through another IVF process ourselves is unlikely to succeed. The only real option, then, is to have someone else do the heavy-lifting (ie. go through the pregnancy) for us. We’ve pondered the option of going through the surrogacy process in the US (ridiculously expensive) or in Canada (where you aren’t legally allowed to pay anyone – so complicated).

It then dawned on us that surely the country which has specialized in all sorts of global-outsourcing (call-centres, back-office procedures, etc…) would be all over this! And, yes….it is – as far as I can tell there must be 50 clinics specializing in this sort of thing all over the country! Given that I was born there, it seemed (and seems) to be an obvious choice. So…never being ones to hang around and watch the moss grow, we’ve winnowed the choice down to a private hospital/clinic in Delhi (based on some trusted references) called Adiva and, in particular, Dr. Banerjee, who works there. Having had a chat with her (seems very nice and professional) and bounced her references off our Canadian doc at PCRM in Vancouver, we’re very comfortable that we’ll be well taken care of. The first funds transfer has been sent off (I really wish they’d confirm receipt!) and we’re booked to head off (with a 6 day stop in Malaysia) on October 31st.

India requires we Canucks to have a visa to enter – fair enough. I’ve been back there on tourist visas since 1982 (& 1996, 1998, 2003 & 2006). I’ve even been there on a business visa in 2009. One would think that applying for another tourist visa would be a piece of cake. Hah! Oh, the mind-boggling insanity of the Indian bureaucracy…. I would hate to be accused of droning on incessantly on my very first post (that can come later), so, in the worst traditions of American television, I shall end post #1 on this cliffhanger…