Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hey, Bhagwaan! Oh, God! – Vingettes of India

peacock"Aa-yo" comes a piercing cry and this beautiful bird lands gracefully in the garden. With its bobbing comb, arched brilliant blue neck, and distinctive tail feathers, it prances its way towards the bowl of seeds kept especially for it. On the way, it detours to dip its head into a cuppa tea left accidentally nearby.

Driving here is a series of misses with a style characterized by: you inch forward, you wedge, you bluff, you honk, and you pray like mad. I sit with my eyes shut tight. Traffic consists of everything that moves: camels pulling hay carts, hand-push carts of produce, trucks, bicycles, cars, and cows with horns (going the other way, naturally).

horned cowNow, we're not talking measely bone protrusions here. These cows have H.O.R.N.S. If a car and a cow were to come in intimate contact, the car would lose badly by being picked up and flung into the other side of the highway. Unlike the dumb cows back home, these cows are brilliant. Relatives up north had a padlock on the double main gate into the driveway. They said that some cows figured out how to hook their horns into the top latch to open the gate.

rickshawOf a sudden, a three-seater three-wheeler rickshaw darts forward on our left, with four people in the front, six in the back, discotheque lights, and hopping music. A shared taxi ride for the weary back home.

Towing a car implies a three-foot jute rope tied from the bumper of one car to the other. At least it wasn't the way we came down the mountains of Kerala during our honeymoon, coasting in neutral with the driver leaning out of his window rope in right hand, and a passenger in the jeep in front holding on to the rope in two hands.

No matter the technological advances on the international stage, education is a huge struggle for girl children. If Priyanka, a student in the sixth grade, is attending school, it is all because of a gritty fight her mother has been putting up at home. For her father, a watchman, girls have no business studying and wasting money. "Mother who works as a house-maid," says Priyanka, "would have none of it. She fought with my father to ensure that I go to school and not end up washing utensils." Priyanka wants to be a teacher.

camelThe Indian camels are one-humped, unlike Bactrian ones. After having examined them closely, I cannot imagine how a love scene that I read couple years ago on the back on a moving camel is remotely physically possible. How do you, er, hump when there's that huge hump in the center?

History talks about the cradle of theology as the Middle East, forgetting that four religions with billions of adherants flourish here in the subcontinent: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism.

Mosquitoes are in great supply in the Midwest, but they cannot hold a candle to these bee-like Indian ones. The only way to deter them from sucking you dry in the night are via British-Raj-style cotton mosquito nets. Très romantique.

Medieval cupboards with hooks as well as wall hooks for clothes are still the norm for clothing storage. Wealthier people indulge in heavy steel vaults for jewelry, which is worn by even the poorest folks.

banyan treeCute donkeys with silky white mane, temples with amazingly delicate filligree stonemasonry and vivid painted scenes, a sudden swath of long-legged white cranes taking off from salt paddies, and enormously wide banyan trees line roads winding through fields of wheat and cotton. It's a reminder of the historically wealthy agrarian kingdoms of South Asia that were willy-nilly, and reluctantly, thrust into the Industrial Age by the advances of the British Empire.

Queen Victoria as Empress of IndiaThe world's most extensive rail system, the telegraph, the parliamentary system, and the English language employed so eloquently by Gandhi and Nobel laureate Tagore (much to the fury of Rudyard Kipling) are some of the many legacies of the British rule. Along with those are the memories of the brutal Jalianwala Baug massacre, theft of the Kohinoor diamond (now part of the English royal collection), and indigent poverty.

There are three taps of water coming into every house, none of which is hot. Water in one tap (i.e., bacteria soup) comes from the town for one hour early morning and one hour in the evening. So backyard tanks have to be filled up with water. Who knows when those tanks are cleaned. So now we have local flora and fauna flourishing in there, in addition to, city-provided bacteria. This water comes through the second tap. Water for drinking has to be irradiated, so there's a device for that and clay pots have to be filled. This is the third tap. Hot water has to be boiled on the stove, except for a special heater that is installed just for bathing water.

Father-in-law's temple is being designed by committee and architected by the entire village. So the, er, shape is unique—no two windows are alike and all the colors of the rainbow have been utilized with artistic freedom. Since the temple is being built for this ancestral village and is dedicated to the memory of his father who was head of the village, everyone just has a good laugh over every meal and is satisfied that the villagers feel ownership towards their temple.

At the end of the day, it's just that. Laughter. The reason that makes this country work and its people survive a 5000+ year tumultuous history. My entire year's laughter is crammed in these four weeks.

Friends and Romansistas, may your holiday celebrations have tons of laughter.

Historical Romance author Christine Wells has been traveling to all sorts of fun places for the last three months: New Zealand, Japan, The Great Barrier Reef, and a beach resort. Check out her adventures here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Books Make Great Gifts

With December 3, the publishing industry's Black Day, still fresh in our memory, it behooves us to do everything we can, to get people reading and buying books this holiday season. We also would like folks to make that one of their new year's resolutions, too. To that effect, blogs such as Books for the Holidays have sprung up all over the 'Net.

(Click on the image to see the animated version of the bookmark.)

Have you bought books for anyone on your list?

Monday, December 15, 2008

16 Random Things About Me

Write a note with 16 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 16 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

1. Since I was a kid, my mother claimed, I should've been born in the Victorian era. Little surprise, I became a historical fiction writer.

2. The longest journey I've embarked on was this most recent one: 45 whole, entire hours.

3. I've seen/met the Rabari folk, the original gypsies of the world, whose ways are largely unchanged for centuries.

4. I'd like to visit Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands some day.

5. I've always wanted to be sing, not be a singer (i.e., performer) per se, just sing.

6. I adore BBC's spy series Spooks (aka MI-5). I'm currently on season five (via Netflix DVDs). There are two more seasons to go.

7. Colors for my eyes, music for my ears, fragrances and aromas for my nose: These are a few of my favorite things.

8. I'm partial to a tumbler of mead or a finger of an aged single malt.

9. I cannot survive in a world that has no Nutella.

10. I read my first romance novel at nine. To my everlasting embarrassment, I had to ask my uncle and aunt for some of the meaning to words because they didn't have a dictionary. I sure got some funny looks, but they didn't censor my reading. That Mills & Boon was such an exciting read.

11. I went to a girls' only school from kindergarten to tenth grade. Boys in the class. ZOMG! Eleventh and twelfth grades were major shockers for me.

12. My favorite place in the world is Hawaii. The ocean, the beach, the sun, the mai-tais. Life doesn't ever get better than that.

13. I cannot dance to save my life. I have an instinctive sense of rhythm where music is concerned. Dance—oops! I was the train wreck in the couple aerobics classes I tried. Even the treadmill is hazardous for me.

14. I'm a good listener.

15. I'm a good teacher. Discovered that in graduate school when I was a teaching assistant for two years.

16. Friendships are the wind beneath my wings and the breath in my lungs.

I'm not a taggee, but I sure am a tagger: Diane Gaston, Amanda McCabe, Cara King, Megan Frampton, Liz Maverick, Caren Crane, Jeanne Adams, Louisa Cornell, Joan Kayse, Donna MacMeans, PJ, Tasha Alexander, Anna Sugden, Kirsten Scott, Deb Marlowe, Carolyn Jewel, Kelly Krysten, Santa O'Bryne, Erin Eisenberg, Christina Arbini, Megan Crane, and Anna Campbell. OK, so I can't count. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Year 2008 in Review

Make New Friends1) Where did you begin 2008?
My brother's wedding.

2) What was your status on Valentine's Day?
Married. Surprisingly, we celebrated it for the first time.

3) Were you in school (anytime this year)?

4) Did you have to go to the hospital?
Yes, emergency, but not for me.

5) Did you have any encounters with the police?

6) Where did you go on holidays?
India, San Francisco, Milwaukee, San Francisco, India.

7) What did you purchase that was over $1000?
Car repairs.

8) Did you know anybody who got married?
A cousin and a friend.

9) Did you know anybody who passed away?

10) Did you move anywhere?

11) What concerts/shows did you go to?

12) Are you registered to vote?
Of course!

13) Where do you live now?
Seattle area.

14) Describe your birthday?
There was a beautiful hand-made card, a cake, and flowers. It was quiet, and I enjoyed it.

15) What's one thing you thought you'd never do but did in 2008?
Finish a novel.

16) What has been your favorite moment?
The national writers' conference in July/August.

17) What's something you learned about yourself?
I can write a historical story set in the early 1800s.

18) Any new additions to your family?
Nope. :(

19) What was your best month?

20) What music will you remember 2008 by?
Jane Austen's favorite songs, period movie soundtracks, Loreena McKennitt, and Gjallarhorn.

21) Who has been your best drinking buddy?
Due to migraine meds, I have had less than a handful drinks in the entire year, and my sister-in-law was always there, as were a few other folks, I can't remember.

22) Made new friends?

23) New best friend?
My best friends are few, but I'm going to see them more. I have dubbed 2009, the Year of Friendships.

24) Favorite Night Out?
December 7th. Celebration of father-in-law's birthday. The whole day from seven in the morning till midnight was a ton of fun. I haven't laughed as much since January, when I was last here at Hubby's parents' house.

25) New goals for 2009?
Of course.