Friday, May 29, 2015

Vapi & Mumbai

Everyone is preparing for the nearing monsoon. Along Gunjan Road, all the trees have been trimmed -- of sorts.

I've only seen a few tools in India: an adze (over-sized hoe) used for digging, an ax used for chopping large branches, and a large machete-type knife used for everything else. This tree was "trimmed" -- hacked would be a better term -- to remove lower branches. This leaves lots of jagged and torn edges. I've never seen anyone using a saw or pruning shears, so all the cuts are very rough.

Moving on to our day in Mumbai:

Powai is a fairly new section of Mumbai. This is the view from the MWV offices.
The more I looked at the buildings, the less attractive they became. No matter what you do, poured concrete retains something of a utilitarian vibe. Then I noticed the building in the background.
It's really quite a cantilevered marvel.
Finally, at the end of the day, our driver, Sachin, invited us to his house for dinner.

Sachin's family and us. As far as I can tell, everyone in India is a good cook!

MWV Puja

MWV is moving their Indian headquarters from Pune to Powai, a northern suburb of Mumbai. To officially open the office, a puja was held yesterday. It was quite the event. The ceremonies lasted about four hours.

The entrance was decorated with marigold garlands.
A rangoli was prepared at the reception desk.
Puja - round 1 of 4.
Puja -- continued.
A highly-decorated coconut.
At one point, the smoke from incense and lamps actually set off the smoke detectors.
Towards the end of the puja in the middle of the office.
After the puja in the middle of the office, a smaller ceremony was performed in side office. This puja involved invocations to the nine planets. (According to a sign I saw in a museum, the nine Hindu planets are the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu, and Ketu.)

Setting up the puja platform.
Ready to start. The brown nuts represent the planets.
Before (left) and after (right).
Now that the office has been properly blessed, it's time to start doing business!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baby Stuff

Our first grandchild is due in August. What an opportunity to go shopping!

I've been admiring these cradles for some time. Now I have an excuse to buy one.

I'm sure this violates all sorts of American guidelines for safe parenting, but it's so-o-o-o Gujarati!
The structure is very solid -- solid tropical hardwood of some sort. Very heavy!
The cradle part is like a mini-charpoy (cot) with side rails. Unfortunately, it's only really appropriate for the first few months.
For longer use (up to age two or three), it can also be used with a hammock. Babies in India are quite frequently put in a hammock made by tying a sari between two trees or two posts. Baby hammocks are also seen in cars and trains.
As a further benefit, this hammock includes mosquito netting.
If you look carefully at the photos, you may have noticed that the set is not entirely put together solidly -- I haven't tightened everything in place because at some point this will need to be shipped in pieces.

And for mama and papa:

A porch swing for David and Maria's front porch. 
Now all I have to do is figure out how to get this stuff to the U.S. The porch swing will wait until we ship all of our household goods home this fall, but the cradle has to get there sooner! Originally I had hoped it could be my second bag on our flights, but I have two domestic flights before I get to Virginia, and logistically and financially it doesn't make much sense!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Around Vapi

Not much new this week. The heat has moderated somewhat -- only getting up to about 35 or 36 C (upper 90's F). But the humidity is oppressive. I don't do much walking in this heat and sun. Monsoon should start in the next few weeks, then the temperatures will moderate considerably, but the humidity increases -- as if that's possible!

Vapi has "excellent" water service -- it runs 2 hours each day -- most of India is lucky to get one hour of water each day. But a huge amount is lost to leaks like this one spouting from a relatively new pipe. What you can't see is that it's also spraying all over electrical lines running along the ground.
Three dogs at an appliance shop. The two black dogs have collars and are chained in place as guard dogs. The white dog is a street dog that looked to get in on a seat off the street.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I give up. E.O. Wilson (noted Harvard biologist) is right: Earth belongs to the ants.

The ants here have always been relentless in their pursuit of food, but the last few days have gone beyond my patience -- although there's really nothing I can do about it. (See a recent post.)

Yesterday, I went to get one of my individually wrapped cookies. (I have one for breakfast everyday to help keep my fish oil pills down. If I don't have some starch with the fish oil, my stomach reacts violently. It's not pretty.) It was completely empty, just a few tiny holes in the foil-lined package where ants had chewed their way in.

A tiny (1 mm) hole chewed through "protective" packaging. This packaging can keep out humidity, but not ants!
Two more small holes
Today they had attacked my vitamin pills -- again -- they love the sugar coating. (See this post for last year's version of this issue.) I keep my pills in zip-lock plastic bags, but they are too flimsy to hold up against these ants. Like the cookie packaging, a plastic bag is no barrier to determined ants.

This time, I did get a bit of revenge. They also got into my baggie of fish oil capsules.

Holes chewed by ants into the baggie that holds my fish oil capsules. You can see some oil loose in the baggie as well. Yesterday, the capsules were intact.
But ants don't do well swimming in oil.

Ants and oil don't mix.
There was a huge black clump of dead ants, and bits of vitamin pill cover (the pink spots above) on the fish oil baggie. The photo above shows a small portion of this.

I don't want to keep my pills in the refrigerator, because they will get too soggy in this humidity when I pull them out to get one. So I have found a small Tupperware container that should keep them safe.

[All of the photos on this page were taken with a Proscope MicroMobile lens on an iPad.]

Saturday, May 16, 2015


May is the prime season for mangoes. Alfonso mangoes are at or near their peak. Kesars will be following in about two weeks.

The highways are lined with mango stalls. An equal length of mango sellers is behind me. There's at least one stretch like this every few km along the highway.
More mangoes.
Everyone is serving "aamras" or "aamras puri". "Aamras" is "mango juice" -- not really juice, but blended mango pulp. Just put ripe mango pieces into a blender or food processor and blend into a thick puree. Maybe add a small amount of sugar if needed. It's served as a dessert or snack, traditionally with puri -- fried flat bread. When you dip the puri into the aamras, it ends up tasting very doughnut-y. Delicious! But it requires Indian Alfonso mangoes. No other variety really works as well.

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Week in Vapi

It's been another hot and dusty week in Vapi. With the heat, I haven't been doing as much walking as when it's cool, and so there are not as many pictures. Here's what I have this week.

One of my favorite trees in Vapi -- a peepal tree growing atop an old wall. The peepal is also known as the "Bodhi Tree", as it was under a peepal tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. It's considered a holy tree by Hindus as well, and this particular tree frequently has offerings at its base. These two figures were particularly colorful.
The Indian alternative to a "cherry picker" or a "bucket truck". This man is working on a street light -- the bed of the truck has a number of lighting units in it.  I didn't see them extend the ladder-like structure, but it must collapse in some way for the vehicle to negotiate Vapi's underpasses and low-hanging wires (of all sorts).
The wedding season is coming to an end -- no one gets married during monsoon! Yesterday we traveled to a reception in Surat -- a two to three hour drive, depending upon traffic. Formal occasions always call for a sari, and I'm (slowly) learning how to wear one. It takes lots of practice!
And finally a note about Vapi "in the news". Chemical and Engineering News ("C&EN", a weekly news publication of the American Chemical Society) had India as their cover story last week. This included a two-page spread on Vapi, as a one-time "most polluted" city (in the world). It's now been "upgraded" to simply one of the most polluted cities in India. (Thank you, China.) You can read the article here:

When the reporter came to Vapi, the head of the local industrial association was very concerned. C&EN's Asia bureau is based in Hong Kong, as is Greenpeace's Asian headquarters. So the local industrial head was convinced that this must be part of a Greenpeace effort to get underground information on Vapi. It never occurred to him that "Chemical and Engineering News" actually covers the chemical industry, and is generally pretty friendly to it. Not to mention that India's national government has essentially thrown Greenpeace out of India by freezing their bank accounts and revoking their NGO status. Doesn't matter. Guilt by association.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Thoughts on Learning a New Language

We've been attempting to learn Hindi for 2 years now. To put it bluntly, it's not going well. Language is one of those things that the more you learn, the more you realize just how much you still need to learn.

Attempting a new language in my 60s, and watching much younger school children learn second and third and fourth languages has given me a much better appreciation of a number of things. Specifically:

• The younger you start a second (third, fourth) language, the better you will learn it. I started French class in 6th grade. While I never developed anything close to fluency, and I haven't studied French for over 40 years, I can do a passable job of reading a French newspaper, but speaking and writing would be a disaster. I took a year (3 semesters) of Russian in my last year of college, but that hasn't stuck nearly as well. Partly because it was only one year, but also because I was older.

• I have much more tolerance for poor English on the part of "English language learners" (or "ELLs" in ed-speak). Most of the misspellings I see here are attempts to write phonetically. What's so awful about that? Of course, if you want to succeed in business, you need to learn proper English speaking and writing -- although what "proper English"is a question -- British, Australian, American? But if you're a shop owner, what's so bad about misspellings if you get your point across, and you can communicate the essentials in English? Most people here do a much better job of English than I do with Hindi -- and a large number of them are self-taught.

Educated Indians need to know at least three languages: the local language (in Vapi it's Gujarati), English, and Hindi. Many know at least one other Indian language -- there's about 20 official ones. Most Muslims learn Arabic and/or Urdu (which is pretty much the same as Hindi, but written with the Arabic script). The former Portuguese colonies (such as nearby Daman) still teach Portuguese. Very few learn German or French; Italian is a rarity; Spanish is pretty much unknown.

On thing is for certain: Americans are way behind the curve when it comes to language study!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


As the summer heat builds (summer is the pre-monsoon months: March, April, and, especially, May), the mosquitoes go on hiatus, but the ants and roaches take center stage. I refuse to take photos of the roaches -- they like the damp areas (bathroom especially), but the ants are tiny, aggressive, and ubiquitous. They love carbohydrates -- especially wheat flour and sugar. They can even get into screw-cap containers, so I have to keep everything in Tupperware or the refrigerator to keep ants out.

A trail of ants across the kitchen wall.
I generally buy cookies that are individually wrapped. Once a package is open, the cookies go soggy in minutes. Here I took a cookie out of its box, and the ants poured out of the wrapper. Even though the cookie was sealed, the ants bored small holes in the package and started enjoying the carbs! One recent box of six cookies had two totally consumed cookies -- two empty cookie wraps.
A group of ants tackle a small almond chip on our kitchen floor. These are tiny ants at most 1 or 2 mm long.

One morning last week, I opened up my laptop and found it swarming with ants -- I think they wanted to use it as a "nursery", since there wasn't any food in there! Fortunately, once I started using the computer, they vacated the premises. (And probably started looking for food.)

I'm really tired of dealing with the ants.

Along NH8

I've been collecting photos along the road for a couple of months now. Today's shot made me decide that the time is ripe for posting.

I'll start with animals:

Here's today's contribution: chickens and veggies on the move.
While we've seen occasional horse carts on NH8, this time the horses were galloping, and doing a pretty good job of keeping up with traffic.
A horse cart being transported. These elaborate carts are mostly used for weddings.
This mobile shrine included a cow and calf.
Moving on to agriculture:

India needs vast quantities of marigolds for celebrations of every kind. (With marigolds harvested, this field will be planted in rice during monsoon.)
I couldn't get my iPhone camera to focus properly, but you get the idea of how agricultural fields are periodically burned over. I am amazed that these fires are contained. The surrounding land is filled with bone-dry vegetation, and there's no water around for fire suppression. Yet I haven't heard or seen of any "wild fires".
Now for landforms:

Between Vapi and Valsad is a quarry that is gradually consuming this substantial hill. (Of course, quarrying a mountain out of existence is not unique to India. In Virginia, Willis Mountain, near Dillwyn, is being similarly consumed by kyanite mining. And "mountain top removal" coal mining is an extreme example.)
And finally, an interesting camera artifact:

My out-of-focus camera not only gave blurred photos, but gave everything a slant. Apparently the exposure was long enough that the movement of our vehicle made the truck slant forward as the scene was scanned. (I wasn't even trying to take a picture of the truck -- I think I was trying to get the "chicken man".)
And that's the way it was on NH8.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vasai Fort (Bassein)

Lon had business in Mumbai today, so I took the opportunity to visit Vasai Fort (also known as Bassein). The fort is a large Portuguese fort north of Mumbai on the north side of Vasai Creek. That's "creek" as in a large estuary. It's 550 m wide where NH8 crosses it, and even wider by the time it gets to the fort, which is pretty much on the Arabian Sea.

Vasai Creek. The remnants of the fort wall can barely be seen at the far left.
The remaining walls of the fort are clearly visible in this satellite view from Google Maps. Sites 1 through 3 are the major ruins. Site 4 is the jetty where the picture above was taken.
The site is under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India, but it's clear that this is a low priority site. A modern temple, a cricket pitch, and a good bit of housing have encroached the site -- most likely before it was deemed worthy of preservation.

The Portuguese built this fort in the early 16th Century, and it became their northern headquarters. It was conquered by the Marathas in 1739. The British took it over in 1780, but returned it to the Marathas in the Treaty of Salbai in 1783. I can find no mention of when it was abandoned, but clearly it's been many, many years!

The road-side view of the ruins at site 1 on the satellite view above.
Our driver, Sachin, and his family.
Same view, but yours truly replacing Sachin in the photo!
More ruins at site 1.
Site 2 starts with an impressive (but difficult to photograph) church, and continues into a large open area (parade ground?).

This area has an active well. The woman is using a plastic jug to get water for laundry.
Site 3 also has a substantial (but smaller than site 2) open area.
More ruins (site 3).
There's a lot more here that is just too difficult to photograph, including a tower that's about 20 m tall. It's really difficult to give a proper view of this amazing place.