Sunday, August 31, 2014


It's difficult to believe that amphibians can survive in the polluted waters around Vapi, but survive they do. I've seen a number of large frogs on our walks, and heard even more in the evenings when walking near puddles.

Here's a typical monsoon puddle. It's between the road and the railroad tracks. You can make out the apartment blocks on the other side of the tracks.
It almost looks pastoral until you notice the trash along the road and in the puddle:

The trash here really isn't that bad (relatively). The water is mostly clear, unlike most of the puddles and drainage ditches that have a milky-blue tinge to them.

Here's the rainwater drainage ditch in front of our bungalow:

It's a lot cleaner here, but even so the occasional piece of trash can be found.
If you look hard, you can see a large frog next to the piece of grayish trash near the middle of the photo.

Voila! Frog! When I got too close, he took cover in a culvert.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Independence Day at Modern School

I just received the photos taken at Modern School during their Independence Day celebration on 15 August, so here's a short photo essay in (mostly) chronological order. (All photos were taken by Modern School personnel.)

Nothing can be celebrated in India without percussion!
Color/honor guard.
The beret is mandatory for the flag hoisting! The large rosette -- it's not a name tag, just a mark of honor. (I was the "Chief Guest".)
Monsoon rains came out in full force when it was time for the flag "hoisting". (It's really more of an unfurling -- see my prior Independence Day post.) Only the guests of honor got wet -- everyone else watched from the shelter of the school.
Flag unfurled. The national anthem is being sung at this time.  More time to wait in the pouring rain!
The school is built around an open courtyard. The students watched the ceremonies from the protected walkways. Girls on one side ...
… and boys on the other.
Singing is part of every celebration. (Boys play the drums. Girls sing.)
I'll skip photos of all the speeches -- there were at least a half-dozen of them -- mostly short.

The festivities concluded with the planting of about a half-dozen trees on the school grounds. Fortunately, the rains had ended by then.
This boy is Modern School's 10th Standard "topper" for the past academic year. He got the top "marks" on the 10th Standard state-wide exams. (A big deal!) He was the "Guest of Honor".
One of the school trustees plants the final tree.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Walk

It's Sunday, so it's time for our weekly walk through Vapi and environs. Today we walked on the west side of the railroad tracks up to the southern end of the Morai area and back. Most of the time we were out of "urban" Vapi and in the more rural areas just beyond. Even though the monsoon rains have not been good this year (about half of "normal"), everything is lush and green.

The only official way to cross the railroad tracks is on the flyover, but there are many pedestrian alternatives -- all unauthorized, and probably "illegal" since they go through gaps in the wall along the tracks. This one certainly has a sense of permanence about it with the well-constructed bridge over the drainage ditch and the concrete steps up to the tracks.
Many families' homes are tents in the fields. But note the satellite dish on the right side. I have no idea where the electricity comes from.
A closer look at the satellite dish.
Across the road, boys were swimming in the irrigation ditch. I can't imagine jumping into that water, but it's a common place to swim, bathe, and do laundry.
Hens and roosters are common -- even in town.
This is pretty typical village housing around Vapi. Each family gets a one-room living space, with cooking mostly outside, and a communal bath house. Water comes from the village pump.
A slightly larger village house.
This relatively new apartment block is on the edge of the village. A large textile mill is directly behind me.
A little bit farther down the road is the ultra-modern building for the Maa Foundation. The foundation's mission is to assist rural schools and teachers in the Valsad district of Gujarat. When finished, this will be a conference center. The building has many "green" features.
Most properties are walled off with a 6-ft high concrete wall. This property appears to be just a vacant lot. Glass shards are embedded in the top as an alternative to barbed wire or concertina wire.
A closer look at the glass on top of the wall.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beehive Redux

The large beehive hanging on the south side of our bungalow is still there, but it has some dramatic changes. The bees have gone elsewhere.

Left: current state of beehive. Right: beehive as it looked back in May.
Now it almost looks like an etching in a 19th Century natural history book.

A closer look at the abandoned comb (left) compared to May (right).
A close-up view of where it is attached to the overhang. In May this area was covered with bees and couldn't be seen from below.
I'm curious to see if the bees return after monsoon, or if they have totally given up on this hive.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Junior Kindergarten

There's nothing cuter than little kids coming to school wearing backpacks as big as they are. Kindergarten covers two years: Junior KG (4-year-olds) and Senior KG (5-year-olds).

They all carry a water bottle, an ID card on a lanyard, and the occasional child has a handkerchief pinned to their shirt.
The curriculum is quite academic. This is an "English Medium" school, so they start using English from Day One. Although the teachers do use Gujarati from time to time,

The classroom looks pretty much like a traditional kindergarten classroom, until you count the students. There will be about 50 students here when all have arrived. While fidgety (they are 4-year-olds, after all), the children are incredibly well-behaved,
Water bottles neatly set along the back wall in the classroom.
A teacher's lesson plans are amazing works of art in themselves.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Independence Day

Today is India's Independence Day. British rule officially ended on this day in 1947. It's a national holiday, and almost every school and large-ish business has a "flag hoisting" (pronounced "flag hosting", which confused me for a while). Rather than run the flag up the flagpole, the flag is already at the top, but is folded up with confetti inside. When "hoisted", a rope is pulled to unfurl the flag and the confetti flies into the air.

This photo taken at the MWV Ruby Macons Morai mill on Independence Day 2013 shows how it's supposed to look.
Of course, this is monsoon, when I unfurled the flag at Modern School, it was in a drenching rain. The audience was under shelter at the school, so only the "Chief Guest" (me), the "Guest of Honour" (last year's 10th standard "topper"), and the color guard got soaked.

MWV gave backpacks to the top students in each standard at the elementary school next to the Morai mill.
In the afternoon, we walked into Vapi to go to the optometrist so I could get new eyeglasses. I need a new prescription, and my not-so-old glasses have become quite scratched. Plastic lenses make for a much lighter lens, but they don't hold up to a dusty, gritty environment as well as I would like. Fortunately, the same glasses here are a fraction (about 1/3) of the U.S. price.

Even though it hasn't been a great monsoon, the underpass under NH8 has too much water to use right now. The detour to the flyover adds 5 to 10 minutes to the walk into town.
A close-up of the motorcycle in the photo above shows the typical monsoon modification -- a piece of metal (or in a pinch cardboard or carpet) added as an extra-large splash board behind the front wheel.
The power of manual labor: This large lawn (approximately 50 ft by 300 ft) was a huge mud puddle three weeks ago. Each one of those tufts of grass was hand-planted by women ankle-deep in mud. Two weeks after planting, it really looks like a lawn.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The (Not So) Lowly Bandana

Sometimes losing an item takes you down a surprising road.

Over the weekend I inadvertently left my bandana behind at the hotel (see previous posts). Fortunately, I had brought a few new ones back with me last month. As I was unwrapping them, I noticed that the traditional print patterns -- largely paisley -- seemed very Indian. I had always assumed that "bandana" with its connections to cowboys, outlaws, and pirates, had a Spanish origin. But could it be Indian?

A trip to and Wikipedia revealed that "bandana" (or "bandanna") came to English from Hindi via the Portuguese. It's Hindi origins come from tie-dying. (India has been tie-dying and block-printing fabrics for centuries, not just since the 60s!)

So "bandana" joins "bungalow" and "ketchup" as English words with a South Asian back story.

This is a bandana I picked up a few years ago because I loved the unusual (for a bandana) pattern.
The label reads "Made in India".


The trip back to Vapi on Tuesday morning took much longer than expected. The backup of trucks waiting to go through toll booths, checkpoints, and accident scenes was even longer than usual. But it did give a chance to appreciate their artwork.

Waiting at the Gujarat checkpost.

Artwork and other decor on trucks.
Here's a link to a Flickr gallery of trucks:

The contents of the trucks -- especially the tankers -- gives one pause. Pivaloyl chloride, epichlorohydrin, ethylene oxide, and anhydrous ammonia (among many others) makes it difficult to forget that India was home to the horrific chemical disaster in Bhopal in 1984.

Bandra Bandstand Promenade

We stayed at the Taj Lands End -- a 5-star hotel on the waterfront. There's not much of a beach for swimming (there are several sandy beaches in Mumbai for that), but it is mesmerizing to watch the surf break on the basaltic rocks.

Low tide
The waves were up to 3 m (10 ft) high.
View of low tide from our hotel room. The tall skinny building at the left is a "bungalow" owned by a Bollywood star. Bollywood loves excess!
Same view at high tide.


We went to Mumbai for the weekend so that Lon could have a full physical exam on Monday. Here are some sights along the way.

The Damanganga (river) just outside Vapi. You can tell it's monsoon, even though there's a bit of water going over the spillway all year long.

The road is now lined with rice paddies. The green is overwhelming.
Walking along a street in Bandra. (Technically, Bandra is a suburb of Mumbai, but it's deep into the Mumbai metropolitan area.)