Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cats and Dogs

I've been seeing a lot of dogs on the street. I doubt if it's really any more than usual, but dogs are everywhere. Yellow, medium-sized (10 kg?) dogs with skinny curled tails. They don't look particularly healthy, although they always seem happy. Last week I came across a pack of 14 dogs being chased out of a neighborhood by a couple of young boys (8-ish?). Even then, the dogs didn't seem particularly disturbed.

With the huge poverty rate in India, it's easy to understand why pets are uncommon. For much of India, it's difficult enough to scrounge sufficient rupees to feed a family, much less a pet or two. But dogs and cats face more than just poverty.

To Hindus, cats are evil -- they have the "evil eye". It seems to me that India could use a good dose of cats to keep the vermin under control. There's certainly no shortage of rats for a food supply. I've seen the occasional pet cat in Bandra, Goa, and Kerala -- all former Portuguese colonies with a significant Christian presence -- but not in Vapi.

On the other hand, Muslims have a deep dislike of dogs. I've seen a few kept dogs -- more as guard dogs than pets. Most of the dogs, though, are feral -- skinny, dirty, and mangy. A significant portion are lame in one foot -- most likely from a run-in with a motor vehicle. I've seen dogs on the street with injuries too sickening to write about. Males seem to outnumber females. I would guess that having a litter of puppies would challenge the resources of most bitches. I see very few puppies -- I'm sure that the puppy mortality rate is high.

The reason for all the dogs is an interesting environmental cautionary tale.
     It all starts with vultures. At one time, India had one of the most robust vulture populations on earth. Most notably, vultures took care of dead cows and are essential for Parsis (a small religious minority), since they believe in neither burial nor cremation -- vultures "do the needful". Starting in the 1990s, vultures started disappearing at alarming rates -- as of now, vultures are at 1 to 3% of their former populations (depending upon species).
     Why? The cause was eventually traced to a drug, diclofenac, used to control inflammation in cows. Diclofenac is extremely toxic to vultures. Exit the vultures.
     What does this have to do with dogs? Dogs, and to a lesser extent rats, have taken over the scavenger niche. In addition to spreading disease, most notably rabies (50% of all rabies cases are in India), dogs are also prey for leopards, which have now moved into more populous areas, including the outskirts of major cities. Leopards prey on small mammals of all sorts -- including small children. You can read the whole story on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_vulture_crisis

Maria got a photo of a rare Egyptian vulture at Fatehpur Sikri.

Trucks -- Too Good to Pass Up

A random collection of recent truck art.

A tiger is a relatively common sight on truck differentials.
Even haz-mat trucks are painted.
While I think I'll stick with the camels to headline my blog, this eagle interpretation is a close second (from the has-mat truck above).

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Finally got a chance to get a photo of my favorite "cowport" (as opposed to "carport").

The shed at the back houses a well-kept cow. I never noticed the swastika design on the gate until I viewed this photo. The swastika is a very common good luck symbol in India and has nothing to do with Nazis. You find it everywhere from temples to trucks. It was appropriated by Hitler as part of his love of all things "Aryan" (which is Indian, not northern European).
A closer look at the cow. My cell phone doesn't do digital zoom all that well (obviously!).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vapi - Where Else?

More in the "Life in Vapi" series.

The chicken truck comes once or twice a week to deliver fresh chickens. One week, I saw the chickens hanging by their legs on a scale to get weighed. The "Vapi Chicken Center", just up the road a hundred meters keeps the chickens alive until you purchase one. Obviously, this is a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, because most Gujarati Hindus generally don't eat meat of any sort. In other parts of India, chicken and fish are fairly commonly consumed.
A weekly bazaar set up on a rural road about 10 km outside Vapi. The real action was on the other side of the road, but I wasn't on that side of the car!

More in the "On Two Wheels" series.

Some girl is getting a nice Diwali present!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Diwali (Revised 26 Oct)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

India's "festival season" concludes with Diwali, and this is Diwali week. The week climaxes with Gujarati New Year on Friday, but the celebrations have already started and will continue for several more days. Homes and businesses are decorated with lights -- much like Christmas in the U.S.

Lights on a bungalow in our "society" (neighborhood). I can watch these from my kitchen window.
Our driver, Sachin, has made sure that we have some lights as well. I couldn't figure out why it was going to take "most of the day" to hang a string of lights. Little did I know that he had to make the string of lights from LED strips, a control box, and a roll of twisted-pair wire. He's also going to decorate his sister's flat, his aunt's house, and his house in the same way. That's a lot of work!

I've got lots of "dyas" (oil lamps) to add as well. I'll get those out tomorrow.

Monday, 20 October 2014

I added the lamps this evening:

Here's a new video shot:

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Since I couldn't find the Diwali lanterns I wanted, I decided to make some instead. Just finding construction paper was a challenge. I also bought some fabric, and the shop owner was upset because 2 meters isn't enough fabric to make a garment. I tried to say that I understood that -- that I wasn't going to make a kurta. Eventually he sold me the fabric anyway (40 Rs / m, or around $0.60 / yd).

The proper names for these is "akaash kandil", which translates as "sky lantern". The round one on the left was easy to make -- except that I now know that I'll need nine of the decorative pieces rather than the six that I used. The square-ish one was more of an effort. I started by following some instructions on the Internet (of course), but that was a disaster. However, attempting that made me realize that the basic shape was a "cuboctahedron" which is composed of fairly easy-to-make squares and equilateral triangles. It would have been a lot more straightforward if I had access to a compass (as in geometry, not navigation).
     The kandils are  supposed to be lit from within (they are "lanterns"), but mine are made of fairly opaque construction paper, so it doesn't matter -- I don't have access to electricity and lights anyway.

Thursday, 23 October 2014
Diwali (Deepavali)

Lon is better, so we did a short (1 hr) walk this evening, dodging "crackers" and admiring the lights.

This is the Jalaram Bapa temple near our bungalow. Note the Roman candle going off at the far right.

Friday, 24 October 2014

"Cracker" (firecracker) debris on the street. There was a lot of noise last night!
Saturday, 25 October 2014

Last photo (I'm pretty sure, but you never know!):

The Amba Mata Mandir, Vapi's largest temple that I know of, all decked out for Diwali.

Board Exams

American teachers may bristle at end-of-course standardized tests, but in India they are an entrenched system. Huge amounts of time are devoted to exams. Both mid-terms ("practice" exams) and end-of-semester exams take two weeks away from the school schedule. That's 8 weeks each year devoted to nothing but exams.

For younger students (Jr Kg through 8th standard), the exams are written by their teachers -- although every student in a standard gets the same exams. But for 9th through 12th standards, the end of semester exam is standardized. Modern School uses the Gujarat State Board exams. Other schools use the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) exams. A very few schools follow an international curriculum, such as the IB (International Baccalaureate -- also available in some U.S. schools).

These exams are run much like the SAT or AP exams. Instead of 60 to 80 students in a classroom, there are only 20 (one per desk), and students do not necessarily take exams at their own school. On Thursday, Modern School was hosting 300 students taking the Semester III Physics exam. Some came from as far away as Daman (10 km) and Silvassa (25 km). Students are randomly assigned to a classroom and a seat. The exams also have multiple forms. Each classroom is recorded on video as well.

The Semester I and Semester III exams are all "MCQ" (multiple choice questions), while Semester II and Semester IV are half MCQ and half written questions. The written questions are always graded by a teacher at a different school from the one the student attends. Semester IV exams cover two years worth of material (either 9th and 10th standard or 11th and 12th standard) and the "marks" determine a student's further education options. It's very serious stuff.

Each classroom is assigned a "Block" number -- it's written on the door in chalk, and a printed sign is posted as well.
Usually students keep their shoes on in school. But for board exams, shoes must be left outside lest crib sheets be hidden in them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Around Vapi

Why wait for the weekend to post interesting pics from Vapi?

The bungalow under "deconstruction" is now ready for rebuilding:
Only the walls and servants' quarters are left standing. The brick and concrete rubble were hauled off after the huge amount of rebar had been removed by hand, cut into shorter lengths, and sold as scrap metal.
Just a reminder of what the plot looked like two weeks ago.
While on the topic of remodeling:
What do you do with a tree that is too close to your wall? Just cement it in place! Our neighbor re-vamped his wall over the past couple of weeks, and simply incorporated the tree into the new wall.
More on India's pollution problem:
While most of the soot and oil in the air can be attributed to industry, and vehicles add to the the smog, roadside trash fires add a substantial amount of smoke as well. As you travel the roads, it's not unusual to see a half-dozen small fires like this  in a 100-meter stretch of road. All contributing smoke and ash to the environment. If plastic or tires get into the mix, the smoke can be quite black.
And on to the domestic side of life:
Why does Indian food taste so good? It's not only the spices; it's also the fact that most of it is fried. I'm not sure whether it's vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter) in those 5-gallon tins. These tins are a major household recycling item. It's common to see a man pushing a handcart collecting empty tins in the neighborhoods.
This cute calf is only a few weeks old. It's usually tied up to this gate, but Mama is never too far off. This particular bungalow has what I call a "cow port" in the back (where an American home would have a "car port").
This is a photo of the marble floor in our laundry area. (Doesn't everyone have a marble laundry room?) Today was the first time I noticed the definite slip-fault in the pattern.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vapi Miscellany

"Miscellaneous" doesn't begin to describe this mix of items from Vapi this week!

First, what I dislike the most about India, Vapi in particular:

This stretch of the main vegetable market street is by far the worst in town for garbage. Every morning it more-or-less gets swept into the street and picked up by the garbage collectors. But overnight, the trash re-appears. Not too surprisingly, I've seen more rats in this stretch of sidewalk than anywhere else in town. I no longer even try to use the sidewalk here -- I just move out into the street. Disgusting.
This, I think, is the justification for the trash on the street. Early in the morning, the cows and buffalo browse for their favorite veggies. The cows turned up their noses at spinach greens, but seemed to relish potatoes. Of course, this adds a significant amount of cow dung to the mix.
India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is pushing hard for improved sanitation and cleanliness, but he has a lot of cultural inertia to overcome. I must say, though, that Vapi's major streets have seen a lot of trash clean-up this week. Whether it's Modi's campaign or preparation for Diwali I don't know, but the difference is refreshing.

On to a different sort of domestic animal:

As we were walking through town this evening, I heard squawking that certainly sounded like a rooster. Looking up -- sure enough, a rooster and a hen on the upper floor of a small apartment block on the other side of the railroad tracks.
More random observations:

No matter how modest the abode, a satellite dish is a necessity.
Bananas anyone?
And finally, an entry in the "Weeds of Vapi" series:

This weedy plant in the mimosa family (look at those leaves!) came from Latin America with the Portuguese. It's called "touch-me-not" because the leaves are sensitive to being touched. I was first introduced to this plant in Costa Rica.
Watch the leaf at the lower left close up when I touch it.
The soundtrack is of one of the many men who come through the neighborhoods with hand carts selling vegetables, fruit, brooms, flowers, (among others) or picking up any recyclables that might have resale value.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Navratri 2014

Navratri is nine nights (that's what Navratri means) of music and dancing. The dancing begins around 9 PM and wraps up between midnight and 1 AM.

Garba dancing at the Rotary Club's Navratri festival.

Navratri is a very public festival, with many, if not most, apartment complexes hosting a place for puja (worship) and dance. Here's a selection of Navratri set-ups between the Rotary venue and our bungalow:

Other parts of India celebrate the same festival in different ways. In West Bengal, it's called "Durga Puja" and is celebrated in a more classical style. Bengalis living in Vapi have an annual cultural festival in association with Durga Puja.

Durga and her associates.
A close-up of the middle idol (Durga) slaying the demon.
There is still plenty of dance. The odd colors in these pictures are due to Indians' love of constantly changing colored lights and laser displays.

The whole festival wraps up on Dussehra, which this year was October 3rd. It's a major holiday in most parts of India. (So I'm only a week late in getting this put together and posted!)

Lots of Dogs and a Horse

Vacation has been over for almost 2 weeks -- it's time to get back to "Life in Vapi".

Everyone knows I'm a sucker for cow photo-ops, but dogs are a close second.

Count 'em. Five dogs are sleeping under and around this car.
Construction sand makes such a good place to snooze!
A horse ready for riders outside the walking park.
The temple is decked out for "festival season".

Vapi - Modern School

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The nature of blogging puts this out-of-sequence, but at least you don't have to scroll back in the listings to see new material.

Early in our trip, we visited Modern School in Vapi. It's a school that was founded by wealthy industrialists in Vapi to serve the very poorest students. I have been trying to make a personal contribution there -- I'm not sure how successful that is, but I am trying!

Just yesterday I received photos from that event taken by Modern School photographers, so here goes:

We visited a Junior Kindergarten classroom. (Unfortunately, Mandi and Ross got cut out of the picture -- I guess the photographer couldn't back up far enough!)
Here we are entering the building to start the ceremonies.
You can't have a program in India without singing ...
… and dancing.

These girls performed a traditional Gujarati garba dance -- the dance of Navratri, which started on September 24th.
Teachers were something of a captive audience.
The family was properly "felicitated" by the school. An Indian "felicitation" is a formal welcome with flowers and a shawl.

After a number of short speeches and an exchange of gifts, David accepted a hand-made card on behalf of the Rollinson Family.
"A good time was had by all."
Thanks to all the Modern School faculty, staff, and students for a warm welcome.