Saturday, July 28, 2007


On Friday morning the alarm did not go off -- AGAIN -- and I slept through led primary series practice.

On Friday afternoon I learned from Vance-from-Berkeley that Guruji led the second class (the one I take) and was in fine form.

The Guru makes his first appearance in eons, and I missed it.




On Wednesday I did not go to the hit Kannada film film Mungaru Malay (Monsoon Rain) with the coconut girl as planned. "Festival," she said, by way of explanation. And that was that.

Later in the afternoon, Ammu told me, "There is no festival."

He and I went to see the Hindi film Partner, a remake of Hitch. But we arrived late and the exterior of the theater was crawling with men, men and more men. So we went to see the Kannada film Cheluvina Chittara instead. He said that the hero was not nice, the heroine not nice and that there would be very little dancing and no action -- but the story was good. Apparently it's a shot-for-shot remake of a Tamil film about forbidden love between a middle-class school girl and a scooter mechanic that results in violence and beatings that cause the jilted groom to go insane. The bad guys wore white dress shirts and dhotis (sarongs) -- just like the politicians here (many of whom are in town for some big foofaraw) -- and there was an all-male dance sequence featuring a man in drag playing the wife. You can't beat that. (Well, you can beat on both the hero and heroine, if you're a villager upholding traditional values).... The hero, Ganesh, had no moustache/paunch and was quite good.

Later I learned that it was based on a true story. Ouch!

Last week I watched the Kannada-Tamil film H20 on DVD. It was released when I was here in 2002, and my Kannada teacher Waruni explained the whole plot to my fellow classmate Sean and I. I think people in both states protested it because it was in both languages and not just their own.

The plot concerns a fairskinned half-Kannadiga, half-Tamil woman named Kaveri (ie; she is the river) who's pursued by westernized Tamil guy and an earthy guy from Kanartaka. Kaveri's parents were killed due to Tamil-Kannadiga rivalry, and she was raised in a temple and works as an ayurvedic healer and wears a short skirt. The opening song sequence begins with an exuberant love song to water and ends with Kaveri's father being beaten to death by an angry mob and her mother taking off in a round boat, giving birth to her, and dying of shock. All in the first few minutes.

Anyway water is very visceral here; when there's a drought everyone feels it, and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are always fighting over rights to water from the Kaveri River. The film included roles for a dwarf and cojoined twins that walked like a crab; the villian who fanned the flames between the two states was a humplimpett who seemed to be a stand-in for drought. Four stars.

For my birthday I wanted to chase down some waterfalls and see what they look like when the dams are full. The last time we went, in 2002, there was a drought. In fact there was so little water at KRS (the nearby dam) that a temple from one of the towns that had been flooded to make way for the dam appeared, and everyone (including Zoe, Kiran and I) made pilgrimages to it. But now the dams are full and everyone's making trips to see the falls.

The drive was only 80km but we made a wrong turn and ended up taking potholed dirt roads most of the way. The shocks on the motorcycle are not what they used to be, and it hurt like hell. Plus the fuel gage is broken; it didn't happen on this trip but from time to time the cycle sputters and dies and Ammu opens the gas cap and looks in and notices it's empty. Then he turns the thing on its side and shakes it and sets it back upright and we ride on fumes to the nearest petrol bunk (gas station).

As we drove, we saw evidence of the river at regular intervals: we crossed it once, and saw many creeks, streams, cement irrigation ditches and rice paddies.

We finally found the waterfall but could only go down part of the way. There were many warnings telling us not to go beyond the fence. The view was spectacular and you could hear the rush of the falls. But you could not feel the mist. And we remembered walking all the way down to the bottom last time around.

The coconut wallah told Ammu that we could ride another 12km to the other side and go all the way to the bottom, where there were boats.

On the way we stopped at the dam but could not go in; apparently the Tamil Tigers had tried to blow it up in 2002 and it's been closed to visitors ever since.

We made the trip and crossed the Kaveri River twice. The second time we were flagged down by some villagers and were told we had to pay an rs5 (7-cent) toll. They did not have change for a 10-rupee note.

Near the second bridge we passed a crew working on a Kannada film; there were exactly three vehicles; no honey wagon, no craft service table, no grip truck, and no fancy camper for the talent.

When we arrived we realized we were in the spot where we'd been in 2002, and started walking down the steep, uneven steps (which, thankfully, were dry). As we got closer we could feel the negative ions. When we got to the bottom we saw some of those little round boats made of bamboo and palm fronds. They did not seem seaworthy, but there was whole family riding around in one and they were having fun and paying little attention to the rapids and fast current that could wash them downstream to Tamil Nadu or immenent death.

So we got in one, too.

Using a single paddle, the captain went against the current and after some time brought us to a spot under the falls. We got out and went closer, and were soon drenched with water. Suddenly, the long, hot, painful ride disappeared. The wetter I got, and the more mist I inhaled, the more renewed I felt -- and I began to understand a bit the whole idea of baptism. Then I noticed a rainbow. It made almost a complete circle -- and I was at the center. It was quite a moment....

After the ride, I tipped our captain handsomely. He pointed to the far falls and said he could bring us there, too. He told Ammu in Kannada that we didn't have to pay him if we didn't want to.

We got back into the boat.

At one point we got stuck on some rocks, and grabbed onto some reeds as he tried to get us over them. Meanwhile the rushing water tried to pull us downstream. A man in another round boat came over to help.

We got past the rocks and he paddled us towards the falls. The noise was deafening. We paused between between two massive falls, and again were drenched. Amazing.

On the way back I was sure we were going to be washed downstream. But we made it back to shore, and I handed the man a 100-rupee note.

He said something in Kannada to Ammu.

Later I found out that we were the only two people so far this season who agreed to be taken to the far falls.

Last night Ammu and I went to see a concert that was part of the big, controversial Mysuru Utsava cultural festival taking place this weekend. Kannada film songs were promised. Instead we got Hindi ballads that even I knew. People seemed disappointed. Then the famous north Indian singers did some Kannada songs (butchering the some of the words) -- including ones from the aforementioned films -- and the crowd went wild.

Water service in Gokulam and many other parts of Mysuru will be interrupted on Monday -- the day of Guruji's party. Keep a full bucket of water on hand so you don't get caught with your pants down (so to speak).

Ammu and I were on the roof of the Kaveri Lodge, watching the sun go down. There were no chairs, so I was squatting a la pasasana. "Shall I bring the water?" he asked, smirking. Apparently this is a common joke; when someone squats, it looks like they're going to poop, and a friend offers to bring the water so they can clean themselves off. I told him that one wouldn't go over very well with a western audience and at the very least he'd have to substitute TP for water. But that didn't stop me from beating it to death over the next few days.


  1. Ohhh, so nice to see you on the pictures. I'm late, I know, but I wish you an exciting new year. Happy birthday to you.


  2. I Sledom read Blogs till End. I am trly fascinated by the way you see things and your style. I would love to read more of your posts..

    Have a great day,
    Warm Regards,

  3. Too bad you overslept and missed Guruji. Time for a new clock.

    Nice pics.

  4. yeah-bust that clock & throw it out, like a few years ago when you did that only to find someone had put it back together! haha!

  5. Dreyfuss' Travel Agent9:18 PM

    Couldn't you have stayed in the States and slept through your clock and been treated poorly in public?

    Thanks for all the pictures. The ones of the waterfalls are truly breathtaking. You look completely at peace there.

  6. Made in India: Low-cost care for ailing parents
    American facing unpleasant alternatives finds novel solution with outsourcing

    By Laurie Goering

    Tribune foreign correspondent

    July 29, 2007


    After three years of caring for his increasingly frail mother and father in their Florida retirement home, Steve Herzfeld was exhausted and faced with spending his family's last resources to put the couple in a cheap nursing home.

    So he made what he saw as the only sensible decision: He outsourced his parents to India.

    Today his 89-year-old mother, Frances, who suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease, gets daily massages, physical therapy and 24-hour help getting to the bathroom, all for about $15 a day. His father, Ernest, 93, an Alzheimer's patient, has a full-time personal assistant and a cook who has won him over to a vegetarian diet healthy enough that he no longer needs his cholesterol medication.

    Best of all, the plentiful drugs the couple require cost less than 20 percent of what they do in the U.S., and salaries for their six-person staff are so cheap that the pair now bank $1,000 a month of their $3,000 Social Security payment. They aim to use the savings as an emergency fund, or to pay for airline tickets if family members want to visit.

    "I wouldn't say it's a solution for everybody, but I consider it the best solution to our problem," said Herzfeld, 56, a management expert who moved to India with his parents and now, as "care manager rather than the actual worker," has time for such things as bike rides to the grocery and strolls in the botanical gardens with his father.

    With the cost of nursing homes, home nurses and medications painfully high in the United States, the elderly and their caregivers have long looked abroad for solutions. Many families drive to Mexico or Canada to buy cheaper drugs, or hire immigrants -- some of them undocumented -- to help them look after frail parents.

    A growing number of aging couples are buying retirement homes in Mexico, where help is cheap and Medicare-funded health care is just across the border.

    Herzfeld never thought he'd be headed abroad. When his mother broke a hip in 2004, he drove to their home in Pompano Beach from his home in North Carolina, figuring he'd stay a while to help his parents get back on their feet. But three years later, he found himself still on the couch in his parents' spare bedroom, wondering where his life had gone.

    "I started to see him breaking down after three years working 24 hours a day," remembers longtime friend Eric Shaffer, who runs a software design firm with offices around the world, including one in Pondicherry, a former French colony on India's southern coast. "He was in a chess game with no move."

    Nursing homes costly

    At wit's end, Herzfeld began investigating nursing homes but found that the $6,600-a-month cost at the cheapest one he could find near family members would quickly bankrupt his parents. An uncle offered financial help, but Herzfeld's father refused to take what he called "welfare" from his family or from the government, which would have assumed the cost of his nursing home care when his own money ran out.

    Herzfeld also was hesitant. "I've seen nursing homes, and it's a hell of a way to end your life," he said. "I wouldn't want someone to do that to me."

    So when Shaffer suggested Herzfeld consider a move to India, "I said right away, 'There's an idea!'" he remembers.

    Herzfeld, who is single and a longtime follower of Transcendental Meditation, had previously spent five years in India, studying and later teaching courses on management at an MBA program in Hyderabad. He admired India's renowned respect for the elderly, despite some evidence that it has slipped in recent years, and he quickly realized that Pondicherry -- a haven for aging hippies from around the world -- might just work.

    The graceful old town, with its coconut palms and orange-blooming flamboyant trees, was foreigner-friendly and on the ocean, a big attraction for his father. The weather was much like Florida's, and many people spoke French, a language his Swiss-born father was fluent in. Best of all, nursing care and rent were cheap, and Shaffer was already there, promising to help rent a house and hire staff. Herzfeld decided to move.

    Just hours after arriving in India, Herzfeld's jet-lagged father tried to chase his new Indian personal aide out of the bathroom -- the youth had been instructed to help him with the toilet -- and fell, cracking his head on the bathtub. The family spent the first night in the hospital as Ernest was stitched up.

    The three also had a few bouts with India's infamous intestinal bugs as they adjusted to a new diet, and Ernest broke his nose when he tripped over his aide -- diligently sleeping just outside the bedroom door -- on a midnight refrigerator raid.

    "It was pretty intense those first weeks," Steve Herzfeld said. "It was chaos."

    Eight months later, however, the family is settled in.

    Herzfeld's mother has a daily hourlong session with a physical therapist, who flexes her stiff legs and gets her up walking with a walker. A nurse, on duty all day, braids flowers into her hair, massages her legs and arms, holds her hand while she watches TV and feeds her. A massage therapist gives the couple a daily massage, and a cook fixes them simple Indian meals.

    Ernest spends much of the day watching cable television in an overstuffed chair, reading local English-language papers or catching a rickshaw to the beach or botanical gardens with his aide or his son.

    Adjusting to India

    Asked how he likes India, he says he has seen enough and is "ready for a change." But he admits to liking the food and speaking French, not to mention the pretty young sari-clad attendants around him.

    The three have long-term visas that will allow them to stay in India through 2011.

    Other things are still being figured out. The family has put up screens to keep out mosquitoes carrying the dreaded Chikungunya virus and bought a battery system to cope with power outages.

    But India, where life expectancy still hovers around 60 years, lacks many physicians experienced in gerontology. And while the family keeps in touch with relatives and friends back home, they haven't yet persuaded anybody to visit.

    "They still think of India as being on another planet," Herzfeld said of family and friends.

    Still, every time he looks at the bills -- less than $2,000 a month for food, rent, utilities, medications, phones and 24-hour staffing -- he thinks he's done the right thing for his parents and himself.

    "It can be done," he said. "This is working."

    From the Sunday Trib. I saved the paper for uyou, it has good pics.

  7. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Happy b-lated b-day!
    See ya soon!