Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My daily walks...Photos from "Just Around the Corner"

Here's something just a little different!  A PHOTO Blogspot post!  We found our old little Casio digital camera somewhere deep in our air-shipment boxes, so, Suzanne asked me to charge it up.  It was the same camera that I took to Dublin in 2008, so - I know it worked pretty well.  I charged it and took it along with me for my morning, hour-long, 6:00 A.M., 4 km.-long stroll around Kasu Brahmananda Reddy Park (also known as "KBR Park" for obvious reasons!).  I hereby declare that KBR Park is the best walking park...anywhere, ever!  Well...O.K. - so I'm a little biased because the park is so close to our home (it's in the next neighborhood over from ours..that means "right around the corner" for Miss Jane Matt from Baton Rouge,'s called "Jubilee Hills".)  Green Park around Buckingham Palace is pretty cool...and Griffith Park at home has some nice hiking trails, too.  But it's really a beautiful and well-cared-for walk through a garden...and I've only seen the outside "Walk Way".  Soon, Suzanne and I are going to take a day and go exploring in the hear of the park, I hear it's gorgeous inside - and I think I read that there is an old Nizam's palace in the center!  Very cool!

KBR National Park is home to nearly 113 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles, 15 species of butterflies, 20 species of mammals and numerous invertebrates. It serves as an urban refuge for Jungle Cats, Palm Civets, Wild Boars, Hares, Mongooses, Monitor Lizards, Pythons, Cobras and other snakes. (Please don't tell Suzanne this last part!!). No large mammals are present in the national park. I know for a fact there are a at least a couple of musters of peacocks in there, too - - because they are awfully noisy.

Yes, a group of peacocks is called a "muster"!!  Don't ever say that you haven't learned anything from this blog, O.K. !!

Anyway...I think the pictures came out pretty good.  It was a little overcast this morning, which is great lighting for digital photography.  I'm no Ansel Adams - but I like the photos!!

Here is a link to my Facebook Photo Album and those photos...  Enjoy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Krishna Preaches His First "Sermon"...

Yesterday, our driver/caretaker Radha Krishna and I went back to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Secunderabad.  Krishna had mentioned to me several times (this was to be our third visit in as many weeks) during the week that "he likes St. Mary's very much" and that he really enjoys going to church with me every Sunday.  This might surprise some of my Christian brethren, but - in the most simple but profound ways, Krishna gets it!  He is Hindu by birth and spiritual practice, but I am coming to understand that "Hinduism" is not truly a "religion"...Hinduism is a seriously unique faith in every sense of that term! The most obvious misconception about Hinduism that we from "the West" have... is that we tend to see it as "just another religion".  To be precise, Hinduism is not a "religion", but is is a way of life, a dharma. And dharma does not mean religion. It is the "law that governs all action".  Thus, contrary to popular perception (including my own for most of my life!), Hinduism is not a "religion" in the traditional sense of the term. Out of these common misinterpretations, has come most of the misconceptions that we (including I) have always had about Hinduism.

To be precise, words like "Hindu" or "Hinduism" are actually anachronisms. As a matter of fact, these terms do not even exist in the Indian cultural lexicon. People have coined them, over the many centuries, to suit their needs at different points in human history.  Nowhere in the Vedic (or other so-called "Hindu") scriptures is there any reference to anything called "Hinduism".  "Hinduism" (I find that it still must be used as a "descriptive term" and a point of reference!) does not have any one founder, and it does not have a Bible or a Koran (or a Pope!) to which controversies can be referred for resolution. Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus "cultural", not "creedal", with a history that is inseparably bound, both to and with, the various peoples with which it is associated.  What we call "Hinduism" is the oldest known spiritual tradition in the world and there is evidence that it flourished long before recorded history in ancient India. The ancient Vedic civilization practiced Hinduism in the Indus Valley over 6,000 years ago and it was already then an old established tradition!!! There is plenty of evidence that its origin goes back into pre-historic times!

Many people mistakenly believe that the fact that there are a "multiplicity of deities" makes Hinduism "polytheistic".  In my studies, I have come to see that such a belief is nothing short of "mistaking the wood for the tree".  The bewildering diversity of Hindu belief - theistic, atheistic and agnostic - rests on a solid unity. "Ekam sath, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti", says the Rig Veda: "The Truth (God, Brahman, etc.) is one", and, as usually happens, religious scholars define this theory in different ways.  I have come to understand that all of the various deities that I see around India are merely tangible expressions of the One God who is beyond human understanding.  As our own St. John Chrysostom says: "A comprehended god is no God!"  It has been said that Christianity's use of the construct we call The Holy Trinity to explain The One True God is quite similar to the Hindu idea of "Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva" (although the more I study, I find that this comparison to be waaaay overly simplistic!)  The devout Sikhs say something similar in the opening verse of their Holy Book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib: "Ek On Kar" - "God is One".  The Jews, also, have their Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!".  A Christian might rightly and accurately say that the biggest difference between our Faith and the others I have mentioned is the Unique Deity of Christ and His Unique Incarnation into human history (there are many others, of course, for perhaps another time!)...but - many of these other views are really intriguing to me... as I am constantly being surrounded by them!

Anyway, let's return to Krishna and our visit to Mass at St. Mary's yesterday!!  We arrived at the Church a little early, on purpose, so that we could get a seat in the center section, (as opposed to last week, when we sat in the side aisle and watched the main Altar on a big-screen T.V.!).  It was drizzling pretty hard when we got out of the car...and the Telugu language Mass was just wrapping up.  We crossed the wet parking lot and entered the side-door into the "narthex" (really just the "back of the Epistle-side aisle"...) and listened to the Communion Hymn being sung as the hundreds of worshippers went forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  Unlike the music for the English language Mass, this hymn had a distinctly Indian sound to it, aside from the language.  As we stood there, I heard the word "prema" being sung over and over.  I turned to Krishna who was standing next to me at the back of the nave, and asked him: "Krishna, what is this word, "prema"?  I knew that the title of one of our favorite CD's by Snatam Kaur is called Prem - so I had a pretty good idea what it meant. 

Krishna said, "Sir... "prema" means LOVE."  As it turns out, the true meaning of the Telugu word "prema" is quite close to the Christian idea of "agape love".  "Prema" means the experience of love, deep love. It is the love that you have the courage and wisdom to feel in yourself for yourself...and it is the love that God feels for you.

Anyway....the Mass was wonderful as it usually is  - although the music, once again, was pretty schlocky - the Communion Hymn for the English Mass we attended was - - are you sitting down??  "Blessed Assurance"   A beautiful hymn, no doubt...but I am sure this is the first time I have ever heard it in a Catholic Mass setting!!

On the drive back to home in Banjara Hills, Krishna and I talked about prema and Jesus ... and the Gospel Lesson for the day...(it was the one about Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer to the Disciples... and how He used the word "Abba" for "Father" - - It was interesting to me when Krishna said that the Hindi word is quite the same: "Abba" - "Daddy".   And we also discussed how God shows His love (His "prema") for us by giving us of His Holy Spirit...)

Anyway, our discussion was finally wrapping up as we were approaching the Q-Mart near our home (we were out of milk!)  All of a sudden, Krishna says: "Sir, I like St. Mary church very much.  Everybody is there...(he paused to search for the correct word) ... together.  I like this.  At man he come temple and pujari (the Priest, one who performs puja) he say - 'big man politician he is here now make wait outside'.  And so many people... they wait one hour outside.  I no like this.  At St. Mary church all are together...everyone the same..."

I just sat there in grinning amazement.  "Yes, Krishna...", I said.  "That is what is supposed to happen.  But it is not always that way.  But we try."

"Yes, sir." Krishna nodded in agreement.

"But..." I said, "Jesus said it is more important that His followers be "servants" - servants to everybody.  Just like you Krishna...Jesus says to be a "servant" is a very good thing.  Jesus said that He came to be a servant, just like you, Krishna (I said it again for emphasis!).  And Jesus even proved this when he washed His disciple's feet!"

Krishna smiled.  "Yes, sir."

" see... I am called to be *your* servant, Krishna..."

He looked a little perplexed, still smiling a bit and said "Oh, no sir!!"

I said, "Oh, yes!!  Jesus say: "The first shall be last and the last shall be first"  Today, you are "Krishna-ji"!

He got it!!  He smiled the biggest Krishna-grin of the trip home.  "No, Sir...I am (just) Krishna"

Here ended the lesson.  Krishna had just preached ... and received...his first sermon!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weeks fly by...

Amy Suzanne and I agree...we are each individually having "different experiences" learning to live here in India.  And this is quite fine with both of us, actually.  My loving wife has changed in so many ways over the last several weeks, and that makes me smile.  "Changed" is not truly the word I'm searching for.  "Grown" seems to be more like the correct term.  The fact that we are here at all... and that she has settled-in so well in Hyderabad, is a giant leap from her old life.  And she is wearing it well, I must say.  But, the fact of the matter is, she is here to work, (and work she does!)...and I am here, as I always have been, to "create an atmosphere where Amy can succeed."

Every day, Tuesday through Saturday, she jumps out of bed (O.K. - allow me a little poetic license here!  "Jumps" may be a wee exaggeration!) and into the shower, and within a half-an-hour, she is riding in the car, heading for High-Tec City to be in the office by 5:30 A.M. 

My dear friends (friends of Amy already know this!) - at home in Los Angeles, the only thing that would get her out of bed at this un-holy hour would be a horse show and an 8:00 warm-up class at The Oaks or down at the HITS shows in Thermal!  She's going to be great at her new position at Deloitte, I just know it, because, frankly, she is great at anything she tries. 

Suzanne has tried more new things in the last six-weeks than she has in our entire thirteen years of our knowing each other!!  That's one of the things that is so exciting about watching her get settled here.  We all know the truth in this:  Sometimes in life, we get into habits, and habits can cause us to fall into some well-worn ruts. If you've ever seen a wagon-wheel stuck in a deep rut, especially if it's a muddy know how difficult it can be to break out of it.  In our experience, it is simply not in my loving wife's psychological makeup to break free of such obstacles in the road.  THere is no doubt in my mind: Amy would have been perfectly happy staying in her cozy office on top of Bunker Hill, living on Old Mill Road, going to her horse shows every weekend and never, ever "varying the theme".  And she would be the first one to admit this...I'm not telling secrets out of school here!!

Prime example (one amongst many!):  The other night, we were doing our nightly yoga class.  Now between the two of us, I'm the one who is the "sweater".  It runs in the family.  It's how my mother and I always had out interior thermostats set.  If it got to be 76-degrees (24 C.) - both my Mom and I would begin to sweat like "stray dogs in Koreatown"!  That's just how both of us were "wired at the factory".  My Dad?  He was just the opposite.  "104-in the shade"  ... while outside dove-hunting down in Mexicali, Mexico, he never sweat a drop...while I, on the other hand, would be reduced to rusty shotgun sitting in a puddle of brine beneath a folding aluminum lawn-chair.

Mostly, our Amy seems to do her worst sweating at the L.A. Equestrian Center horse shows in mid-August (is that Gold Coast?)...while she's doing multiple hunter rounds wearing a black helmet and blue hunt-coat...but most of the time she's not nearly the "sweater" that I am.  Yet, on Monday of this week, here we were...just a minute or so after our hour-plus long yoga session in our basement...and she's laying in the savasana (or, "corpse pose").  I'm sort of sitting in the sukasana (easy sitting) pose.  I looked over at my beautiful bride... and she looked every bit like a wet dish-rag.  I smiled over at her and she said, out-loud, to no one in particular:

"What the hell has happened to my life???"  She smiled and we all had a good laugh!

It's so true!!  We are both going through some serious changes and growth-spurts.  Perhaps mine are coming more quickly than hers, but I'm pretty proud of both of us, I've gotta say!  We have this wonderful home theater in our basement...and it has morphed into a bloody yoga studio!!  Amy Brubaker, the WCHR Champion at The Capital Challenge Horse Show for two years doing yoga, she is having a wonderful time coaxing polo ponies to canter along the "rail" (actually more of a "fence" made out of tree-branches!) at the Hyderabad Polo and Riding Club, and we have both made lots of new friends!  She's growing, and seems to be smiling every minute!  As for me...I'm attending a wide variety of wonderful worship services from any number of traditions (this Sunday it looks like "St. Andrew's Orthodox Church" in Secunderabad!) and meeting tons of new and interesting people.  Our "family" has grown to include Krishna (I mean our caretaker, not the Big Blue Guy), his wife, Jyoti, their kids, our security man, Sangamesh.  It's a wild, wonderful, exciting, crazy and sometimes hard-to-deal-with place...but - we feel honored to be here...and we are loving it!!

N.B. about YOGA.  This $#!+ is intense!!  We are only at the very beginning stages of learing the basics...but - I'm telling you, no exaggeration - I feel better by leaps and bounds.  I'm much more limber, some of my more arthritic parts are becoming more supple...and (this is may not sound like much, but for me - it's HUGE!) now I can bend over to pluck the golf ball out of the bottom of the hole without straining a ligament or getting a hernia!!  I would be very sad if yoga got cancelled tonight.  Every day I get juat a little stronger, just a little better.

For those of you who know me from back better be sitting down. Are you ready? No McMuffins and hash-browns for me! Here is a photo of Fr. K.'s breakfast this morning:  Hot green and tulasi tea with wild honey, a fresh, local-grown orange, a handful of raw almonds, about a cup of raw, freshly-soaked and sprouted "seed sprouts" and three raw dates. Some of my friends from home have told me that it looks "like bird food" ...or, "like dessert for a squirrel!"  But I don't care!!  When was the last time you saw a squirrel in the hospital geting a quadruple bypass??  I'm just fine with the jabs and ribbing I'm taking from friends.  I like it here, and I want to stay alive longer to enjoy it!  And guess what? It's all really good!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's actually SUNDAY!!

Good morning, everybody! With all of these wonderful "church choices"... as expected, caretaker Krishna and I have both decided that it's going to be Mass at St. Mary's in Secunderabad again for this morning. Krishna tells me that he likes the "Jesus pooja" there very much!  There will be no loud hymn-singing for me this morning in church, though. You see, after we got back home for a much-needed shower after watching her ride horses for a few hours out at the Polo Club (watching her trot-around the ring on a polo-pony is still a most interesting sight, I must say!)...Amy and I spend a good portion of last night at a Deloitte karaoke party at The Grille Room above Fusion 9 here in Banjara Hills.  It seems that I had a bit of a go at Billy Idol's "White Wedding" as my second song choice (and I rocked it, too, don't ya know!?! My other songs were The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven".  Sing today??  Sheesh!  I'm lucky to be able to talk!  Roger Daltrey, Billy Idol and Robert Plant are tough acts to follow!) - and ... well, I sort of blew-out my vocal chords! A Blessed Sunday to all (that would be tomorrow in the USA!).  We'll post more about the karaoke party and Suzanne's ride out at the Polo Club early next week!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Random Catching Up....

It seems like it's been ages since I found a minute to sit down  with all of my compiled notes for a new Blogspot post.  Since I wrote my last "Mystery Worshipper's Report" about St. Mary's church in Secunderabad, I heard back from my friend Rajan Chopra, who told me that St. Mary's is indeed the hub of that spiritual community...for all religions.  I knew is was a special place the moment I walked into the courtyard.  Thank you, Rajan, for confirming the accuracy of my current spiritual discernment!  Also - I sent a nice e-mail to the people at Ship of Fools.  I have not heard back from them about my application to become an "official" Mystery Worshipper.  Maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age, but I have always thought that the people running that site were a bunch of Protestants.  Methinks that the sample of my writing that I sent to them had too-much of a Catholic slant to it.  I have a feeling that I may have been "deleted".  Hey, Pooks...what do you think?  I thought my pieces were pretty spot-on for what they wanted.  Oh, well...

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Last Sunday was Amy's birthday.  Happy Birthday, again, Sweetimus!!  We men know that it is never nice to discuss a woman's age... so I won't.  Let's just say that when we return home, she will be riding in the "Rusty Stirrup" division at the HITS Show in Thermal!  After Church (see my review of St. Mary's Church in an earlier blog posting) - we had an invitation from Cindy, a Deloitter from Phoenix, AZ who was here in Hyderabad on a "look-see" tour, to join her for brunch at the Westin Hotel.  We had heard through the ex-pat grapevine that, although there are several killer Sunday Brunches available in town (the Novotel and the Ista hotels being just two among many!) - the Westin stands alone.  I can now testify to that fact!!  My goodness...what a spread!!  I know I'm going to leave something out...but there was a salad bar, and Indian food bar (veg. and non-veg.), a bread bar, a fruit bar, an omelet station, a dim sum bar, prawns (cooked to order, like the dim sum!)...and a desert bar with an "apple crumble" and vanilla ice cream to die for...along with some sort of chocolate-peanut-butter mousse thing that tasted like a big Reese's Cup!  This is all amongst other delights I had no room to sample. I was coming off of a night of "stomach discomfort" (i.e., let's just say that I now know why they put "Imodium" in our "travel kit"!!) - so - when we ran into our new friends Christy (Orange County), Rasmus (Denmark) and Nanna (Iceland) - I told them that I was there to "eat lightly".  Rasmus said... "Oh, Scott - you *will* be tempted!"

And indeed I was.  It's amazing how, at brunches such as these, that if you put just a tiny portion of the things that you think you'd like to try on your plate...that you end up with a mountain of food!!  "Let's see...a little chicken biryani... oh, that vegetable biryani looks good.  Hmmmm.  Kung pao shrimp?  Fried rice?  Chicken Tikka Masala?  Oh, and I'll have some bacon and sausage and...."  Yeah.  You get the picture!

Indians REALLY seem to enjoy the "eating out" experience....they actually seem to enjoy all of life more...but that's for another blog post!  What happened at the Westin was the LONGEST I have ever spent at a meal in my life!!  Cindy and Amy were running a marathon...I did what most Americans do...I thought I was running a sprint!  I grazed - but I ended up "over grazing"!!  About an hour and a half after we began... were joined by another Indian Deloitter and his fiancee - - and the conversations just wandered from sports to food to culture to international relations to finance to marriage to the theater.... what an enjoyable time we had.  I think we sat down to eat at 1:30 P.M. - - and we got up to leave the Westin just shy of 5:00 P.M.  The food was indeed awesome...but - as so often happens here in's the people that make the experience!!

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Our yoga instructor, Neeraj, gave me some tips on "eating like an Indian".  Perfect timing after pigging-out at the Westin.  On the list he prepared for me was "sprouts".  I asked him "what kind of sprouts?"  He answered, "You don't know "sprouts"?"  Well, yeah, I know bean-sprouts and alfalfa sprouts and broccoli sprouts... but when he described what they were, I knew we were not talking the same language.

It turns out that "sprouts" are seeds....they look like peas and nuts and soybeans and millet-like "pellets" - - these you soak overnight in water until they "sprout"  -  and, in the morning, you put them in a bowl and eat them with a spoon.  The Q-mart had "pre-soaked" sprouts in a vacuum-sealed bag - - but Caretaker Krishna informed me that they were 300% more expensive than buying bulk "sprouts" (there is a long Indian name for each of the seeds...I'll just call 'em "sprouts"!) and soaking them yourself.  He says that he eats sprouts every morning.  Looking at Krishna and his approximately 0.005% body-fat - - I figured I had better start eating them, too!  And you know what??  I'll be doggoned!  Sprouts are alive and tasty (in a nutty/sweet kind of way!) and filling and give you great energy - - along with some dates, a few almonds, a cup of green tea, some lime-juice in warmish water and an orange or some watermelon!!

If anybody would have ever told me that I'd be living in India...eating "sprouts, dates and almonds" for breakfast...I would have laughed in their faces!!

Speaking of yoga...I now understand why the ladies (including my super sister-in-law, Paula) love yoga so much!  I now understand the addiction!  I can now see why I see women queuing up with their rolled-up "sticky mats" and leotards to get into Yoga House and Bikram Yoga back home in Pasadena!  It is really hard!!  It makes you work!!  It makes you sweat!!  And...after two weeks of doing it...I feel great!!!  I've lost 13 Kg. (28 pounds) since we arrived here.  Of course at first it was too darned hot to eat...and then there was my bout with "stomach problems" last Saturday....but - between taking off some poundage and learning asanas (poses) for stretching, strength and balance... I am feeling better than I have in years!!  Ommmm...shanti, shanti, shanti!!

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Suzanne went riding out at the Hyderabad Riding and Polo Club again last night after she got off at work.  Our new friends Christy and Rasmus and Nanna - when we saw them at the Westin - had invited us to go to the "cinema" this week - so - I took them up on their offer.  The mall where the INOX theater is is very nice.  It also happens to be the mall that houses the Hard Rock Cafe - Hyderabad.  It's called the GVK One Mall.  Now that I've actually been inside, it is my opinion that it is the nicest mall in town, by far...and there are some good ones!!

Rasmus got us tickets on-line.  The good seats (see below) are "reserved".  We went to see "Knight and Day".  It cost (are you ready, fellow Americans??) Rs. 250.00 (about $5.00) for a big comfy chair that reclines ALL the way back... and - in addition - they have waiters that bring you your popcorn and sodas. The movie was just O.K. - the theater was beautiful - but the recliners were awezzzzzome... This may become a regular thing....

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Krishna does our shopping now.  He gets my fresh fruit, nuts and "sprouts" from a little stand around the corner from the house.  Oranges, apples, limes, lemons, the best watermelon you ever tasted...they grow them quite a bit smaller here!  "Wal-Mart" - it's not!!  I would imagine that for most Americans, the place would be a little "off-putting" - but this is where the locals do their shopping.  The produce is so much better and fresher than at the Hyper-City store or even the venerable Q-Mart!

On the way home from Deloitte in the morning, I have driver Radha Krishna learning about the wonders of Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers Band,  I think he is beginning to truly appreciate the wonders of Duane Allman's guitar solo with Dickie Betts on "Whipping Post" from "Live from the Fillmore East"!  Of course, Snatam Kaur is still our favorite!! Krishna and I often drive down the road singing "Ong, namo - - guru dev....namo!"

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Beloved the Lhasa Apso was scratching her ears for the past day or we finally went to the local Banjara Hills veterinarian's office.  Now, we have heard that this is THE vet to go to in our area. And she is super!! It's a great clinic, too....but please understand ...  everything here is to be judged on Indian standards.

There is an outdoor waiting area, in the shade, but - that's about it!  Every dog in Banjara/Jubilee Hills seemed to be there!!  It's nothing like a vet hospital at home.  There are no private rooms inside - just three stainless-steel tables, with all procedures being done in one medium-sized room.  The first time (Wednesday) it was about a 1.0 hour wait. Great staff of professionals there....but - DO NOT try to picture a standard American vet's office. Think of it more like a "M.A.S.H." unit for pets. I was there, I swear, with every Yellow Labrador and Golden Retreiver in Banjara Hills ... quite a number were wearing the "cone of Shame" - many of the dogs had a variety of ear problems, it seems that they were all big dogs, including a beautiful Pointer and 2-3 German Shepherds (except on pug and a golden lab puppy that was too cute!!)...and - one at a time, we all got to see the doc (Dr. Lakshmi S. Ramana).  Including the darlingest little Pug you ever saw!!

Words of wisdom:  Life is good until you have to get your ears flushed!! Poor Bee!! Dr. Lakshmi said she's doing assembly-line ear-flushings because of the heat and humidity...floppy ears make for a petri-dish atmosphere. No ear-mites, we are pretty sure...the assistant cleaned a lot of dark goo out of her ears...and got a shot and some pills. Did a stool sample, very thorough. But again, picture a scene from MASH rather than your local So. Cal. vet hospital.  All of that treatment, including prescriptions (2) and a follow-up visit - for around fifteen dollars!!!!

To take home, we got more ear solution and some drops (and Amy bought us some sterile cotton balls!)  Unfortunately, Bee had to go back on Friday for another flushing/cleaning. From now on, now that I have the tools...I can keep her ears spic-n'-span!

Although she was not happy at the time, Beloved is actually really glad we got it done - she's wagging and dancing around...she got her little anal-glands squished, too... all necessary stuff!

Our Driver Krishna took us both days, and stayed with us the whole time. After I said that holding Beloved through both ear-flushing procedures... and had gotten schmutz all over my shirt ... that it was "hard work"...  Krishna said "Yes, sir...but good work!"

Later the first day, after we brought our Princess home, Krishna came upstairs to our room to see/ask "How is Bee?" Krishna is like having a Man Friday...and he actually carried The Bee into the exam room today. She actually likes him!  And he loves The Bee.  Amy and I love Krishna, too.  He's truly a remarkable man!

Beloved is in really good hands, 8,700-miles from home!

Here is Dr. Lakshmi's website: Animal Care Clinic

P.S.  I've decided to forgo trying the find the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. Gregorios for another week.  Tomorrow (Sunday) I will be going back to St. Mary's in Secunderabad.  It's definitely a sacred place!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy St. Swithun's Day!!

Happy St. Swithun's Day, everybody!! I couldn't let it pass this year without some sort of mention.  St. Swithun’s Day is looked up on as a British weather proverb as the day where we can see what the weather is going to do for the next 40 days and 40 nights. If it is sunny on St. Swithun’s Day then it is said that it will be sunny for 40 days, if it however rains on St. Swithum’s Day then it is said that it will rain for 40 days and 40 nights.  Kind of like American "Groundhog Day" - except without the furry little rodent - and thank God Blessed Swithun doesn't get out of his grave to check on his shadow!!

There is an old rhyme associated with St. Swithun’s Day that goes like this:

St. Swithun’s day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithun’s day if thou be fair,
For forty days ’twill rain na mair!

St. Swithin (or more properly, Swithun) was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches.
So...what is the reason that St. Swithun’s Day is associated with the weather like this?  Tradition tells us that it  is because when St. Swithun died and was burried in 862 he requested it be outside. Often a person's "saint's day" is declared either as the dete of death...or the date of the "translation" (moving) of their relics.  The latter is the case with St. Swithun. On 15 July 971 A.D. his body was moved to an indoor shrine... but it is believed that the ceremony was delayed by 40 days of torrential rain which was said to be because of St. Swithun’s displeasure at being moved.
The picture (above) is of the skull of St. Swithun, Bishop and Confessor, which is a holy relic.  His remains are enshrined at Winchester Cathedral to this day.

Cue disembodied voice of Paul Harvey:  "And now you know...the REST of the story!  Good day!!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday at St. Mary's (Secunderabad)

After the response I received from my very first attempt at a "Mystery Worshipers Report" (on St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Banjara Hills) a few weeks back, I guess I'll follow the same format for this week's report on the Parish of St. Mary, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.  As most of you know, and as the Ship of Fools website states: "Since ancient times (OK, 1998), Ship of Fools has been sending Mystery Worshippers to churches worldwide. Travelling incognito, they ask those questions which go to the heart of church life: How long was the sermon? How hard the pew? How cold was the coffee? How warm the welcome?..."

I am NOT an official SOF Mystery Worshipper - I don't even "play one on T.V." - but I love to read the reports...I've been a fan for years...and it is my humble opinion that any Pastor worth his salt should read it regularly as well, as the M.W.'s can be brutally honest at times, an some of the cardinal pitfalls of parish life can be avoided just by reading the honest opinions about what people really think as they visit your church!!

N.B. to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, I mean no offense when I say this...I know that many of your parishes are alive and filled with love and are doing the Lord's work.  BUT!!  Having said that, first of all...let me say that I find it extremely sad that I had to come all the way to India to discover a Catholic Parish so alive, so vibrant, so....what's the word I'm searching for?  "Catholic".  There are eight Masses each and every Sunday.  That, right there, speaks volumes about this very special parish church in the heart of the Twin Cities area of Hyderabad/Secunderabad.  Like all great parishes through the ages: The Holy Mass is CENTRAL to what this parish community is all about!!

The Sunday Services:

6:00 am in Tamil

7:00 am in English

8:15 am in Telugu

9:30 am in English

9:15 am Children's mass

11:30 am in English

5:00 pm & 6:00 pm in English

Weekday Services:
Monday to Saturday both the 6:00 am and 6:00 pm Masses are in English

Monday 6:00 pm Mass followed by DIVINE MERCY

Tuesday 6:00 pm Mass

Wednesday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION in St. Jude's Chapel

Thursday 6:00 pm followed by Novena to OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP

Friday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION

Saturday 6:00 pm followed by ADORATION

O.K.  Let's begin, shall we??

Mystery Worshipper: (The Rev. Canon) Scott E. Kingsbury

The church: St. Mary's Church in of the biggest, if not the nicest, Catholic parish in the Twin Cities area.

Denomination: Roman Catholic. 100%.  No question.

Building:  Simple Gothic in architecture and design...hard to tell when it was built, because it is so well-kept, the grounds are so clean, the paint is so fresh...the love of the place by its people just makes the building and surroundings just shine!!  In some of the photos of the place, a "replica" of Michelangelo's classic sculpture "La Pieta" can be seen in the courtyard.  I put "replica" in quotes because a true "replica" would be the same size as the original.  This thing is HUGE!!  I didn't get close enough to see, but it looks like the sculptor used plaster for this piece.  It is really quite stunning.

The main church is typical...not much of a Narthex, save for the small vesting table at the back where the Celebrant's vestments were neatly arranged prior to the Mass.  The Nave has two sections of wooden pews with two small aisles on the outside (plenty of room to walk a proper procession for "Stations of the Cross" - which hang on the nave walls - and are large, colorful, traditional and beautiful!!) ...and one large main aisle down the center.  It is not nearly as gaudily or colorfully appointed as was St. Alphonsus - - more of a classic European Catholic look...although the Altar Crucifix was painted (Spanish-style) in lifelike colors - - and the altar frontal was that kind of Kelly Green that exists only in certain parts of the Catholic world (and not one that I would prefer to inhabit for eternity if I had my druthers!)

The service was done "versus populum" (facing the people) - - which I guess I should not find shocking in the Novus Ordo world of India - but what a waste.  The Altar was probably not marble, as the faces of the Twelve Apostles on the bas-relief reredos were painted in soft pastels.  It was probably plaster, as is the Pieta out front...but it would have made the perfect Altar for doing a proper "ad orientem" (facing liturgical east) Mass.

The standard-issue Indian ceiling fans whirred-away overhead...but they were interestingly mounted from arms extending-out from the pillars that went down both sides of the nave, outside the that the fans actually fanned the assembled "populum" below.  Very comfortable, climate-wise.  Except when the power decided to go off. (More on that below!)

The several structures and "out buildings" outside in the courtyard bear special mention.  As you walk in from the side gate (a few dozen beggars outside of the gate itself, very well mannered, not nearly as aggressive as the ones outside of the Banjara Hills parish!), you pass an area where the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are done in "diorama".  I'm not sure if that's the proper word...but - there are five "stations" - under glass - where the Rosary can be said/walked.  There are stone/plaster benches for those wishing to add this little bit of devotion to their Rosary recitation.  The area is about 50' x 25' - and - before the Mass, there were dozens of the gathering Faithful standing in front of the meditation stations, with Rosaries in hand.

There is another shrine as well....a huge gold and blue painted metal star forms the focal-point of the outdoor worship area...and in the center of the star, also behind glass, (more to protect Her from the elements rather than graffiti or vandalism) - is a statue of Our Lady.  I didn't linger there....I need to take a second probably was NOT Our Lady of Guadeloupe, but it was that kind of depiction...the Blessed Virgin surrounded by stars about Her head.  Very striking.  Especially when you see 20-30 worshippers kneeling on the cement hard scape courtyard - - and even a few reaching up to touch the glass in front of The Virgin Mary and kiss their hands.  Like I said...this place is CATHOLIC!!

Now, just outside of the Nave on the west side of the main building there is the "St. Jude Shrine"....this is a plain building with no seats, no pews, no kneelers...only very large and beautifully glass-encased Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament built into the "east" wall.  Inside, before Mass and after, the chapel was PACKED with kneeling men and women, participating in Eucharistic Adoration.  Again, they are kneeling right on the cement floor!!  For those not familiar with the practice, Eucharistic Adoration is a practice in the Catholic Church (mostly, but not always, in the Latin Rite) and in some Anglican churches (like my home parish of St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood!), in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to and adored by the faithful. When this exposure and adoration is constant (twenty-four hours a day), it is called Perpetual Adoration. In a parish, this is usually done by volunteer parishioners; in a monastery or convent, it is done by the resident monks or nuns.  Again....8,700-miles from home...and I find some of the most devout Catholics I have ever witnessed!!

The church (people):  The Mass that WE attended (oh, did I forget to mention...our caretaker Krishna said he wanted to go inside, too.  As we parked the car on a side-street (the car-park was so packed with motorcycles and small autos that we couldn't get inside!) - he said that he "liked Jesus very much".  I said "So do I, Krishna...let's go!" )  I cannot talk about the people without giving you an idea about the size of the crowd!  The nave was PACKED!  The old phrase "Standing Room Only" doesn't even say the necessary here.  There were people standing in the Narthex.  There were people standing in the side aisles.  There were probably 1,500 people inside the church.  Outside in the courtyard, there were another 1,000-or-so worshippers, sitting on plaster benches and in plastic lawn-chairs.  Or standing.  It reminded me of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  These people had flocked to hear Jesus...and to be fed by Him.  It was mystical and magical!!

The mixture of people is striking.  Rich and poor, the well-dressed and the not-so-well dressed (but always the best possible can just tell!)  Some of the women are in their best silk "Sunday-go-to-meeting" sarees!! Many (but not all) had their heads covered.  Old and young alike...babies in arms, school-age kids (some well-behaved...some...well, just typical kids in church!!) Shoes for the most part are left on for Mass.  The latecomers, regardless of dress (I really don't think it was a "class" or "caste" thing...I think if you are late, you sit outside!)  The service was the biggest of the five English Language Masses for the day...and everybody seemed to speak perfectly acceptable English...the responses and the singing were crisp, loud and clear! 

The neighbourhood:  Urban.  Businesses more than houses.  Typical Hyderabad/Secunderabad - - crowded, noisy, boisterous, chaotic...lots of activity on the streets (Sunday is a shopping day....but 9:30 is a little the time Mass was was the Wild West Show!!)

The cast:  No bulletin.  The Celebrant - and elegant, shorter Indian man with perfect English...clad in one seriously shiny Kelly Green and gold-trimmed chasuble and stole (no maniple that I could see.)  Three Acolytes in red cassocks with white cowls instead of surplices or cottasSanctus Bells and Thurible, filled with "a sweet-smelling savour", were used liberally.  I had heard that St. Mary's was more "traditional" - and - I guess this is true, in comparison to the electric-blue neon tubed Crucifix and day-glow painted altar at St. Alphonsus!  But - to a true Catholic "traditionalist" like myself...the "t-word" is not something I would attribute to this Mass.  But is was superbly done, start to finish!!  A 10+ member choir, mostly women in sarees, a couple of men.  Sang with real gusto!  Another Priest came from the sacristy to assist in administering Holy Communion - - along with probably 10 "Eucharistic Ministers" - including on adorable little Indian nun in an all-white habit - - they set up "Communion Stations" throughout the nave and in various places around the courtyard.  Had this not been done, Communion-time would have lasted two-hours alone!!

The date and time: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 9:30 A.M.

What was the name of the service?  9:30 A.M. English Mass.  (If I were to name it, I would say it was the "Family Mass".

How full was the building?  110% plus standing-room-only in the courtyard, seating, outbuildings and shrines for all of the overage.

Did anyone welcome you personally?  Are you kidding me??  A priest, in full black Roman cassock and collar - at a parish that is THIS Catholic??  And a white, American priest to boot??  It was all I could do to get through the crowded courtyard full of "greeters"!  I was overwhelmed, frankly.

Was your pew comfortable?  Good question.  Let me just say " shoulda/coulda been!"  It seems that there is room for eight small adults.  I, being a bit "wider in the beam" than most Indian adults, fill a bit more space.  When Krishna and I sat down in our pew, (3/4 of the way back of the Gospel Side) - it was definitely our pew.  By the time the Mass had begun, a grandfather and his fidgety grandson (who was clutching a bright-pink plastic elephant with a squeaker!) has squeezed-in to Krishna's right...and two grown men had sat down (literally "squeezed" - no lie! - in-between one of the side pillars into the left-side of the pew) in on my left.  I moved right to make room.  These pews are designed with four wicker "seats" - - so, now with the extra personnel, my rear-end was straddling the center-beam and not too comfortably, I must say.  Kneeling on the padless kneelers was preferable, I'm afraid!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?  Prayerful, quiet, dignified...despite the large numbers of worshippers!

What were the exact opening words of the service? "Good morning Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and welcome to this celebration of the Holy Mass..."  He then did his lengthy Mass intentions prior to the actual begining of the Mass. That was different!  The intentions list was mostly for "in remembrance" of departed loved-ones, death anniversaries, special intention to various saints...strangely enough...quite a number of the family names were Hispanic!!  "Fernandez Family", "Sanchez Family"....

What books did the congregation use during the service?  That is a good question.  There were places for books in the pews...but none available.  Because I was taken with the Acolyte's warm greetings (and my first peek at Father's "shiny green and gold" Mass vestments!) - I did not see any books at the back for use.  There were very few parishioners who had very old and tattered copies of a Hymnal of musical notes, only words...similar to the old pew-editions of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" used by the Church of England for so many years.  But there was nothing "ancient" about the hymn choices. (More below)

What musical instruments were played?  A standard electronic "keyboard/organ" - - with the unfortunate setting of somewhere between "oboe" and "viola".  Ugh.  No other instruments that I could see, although some of the higher notes played by the "organist" sounded "flute-like". 

Did anything distract you?  The little boy's squeaking elephant...which I reached out and gently patted in the lad's hand once during the sermon...and - with a gentle smile from "Father K." and a look of thanks from the grandfather, he mercifully stopped squeezing.  The Celebrant's chasuble was a little distracting...and NOT because I wanted one (God forbid!!) was LOUDER than the squeaking plastic elephant!!  The music was more akin to a Wednesday night "house-church" meeting for "Praise and Worship" than it would be to a traditional Catholic Mass.  No Palestrina here!!  Oh...the power went out during one of the pre-Communion hymns....the "organ" was rendered silent...but the people kept sweetly singing!! And loudly, too!  The power was out for only a few minutes when the giant gas generator outside fired-up!  The lights flickered for some time after that!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?  Dignified, worshipful, typical Novus Ordo Mass....with loud, crisp responses ("And also with you!"...oh, well...) and singing of the "propers" (very modern. not "happy-clappy" - but far from what I would call "traditional"...if you're used to American Novus Ordo Masses, you have heard these tunes!!  A few female worshippers had their hands in the air, "charismatic style" during some of the prayers...but all was done "decently and in order" in keeping with 1 Corinthians 14:40

Exactly how long was the sermon? Fifteen minutes.  Actually, only about 1-2 sentences too long.  Well-paced.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?  He was good.  A solid 7.5.  A fairly well-worn topic, to be sure, and very hard to come up with a "new take" on the Gospel Lesson - (having preached on the same "Good Samaritan Gospel" from the One Year Lectionary myself for fifteen years!) - but it was good, well-structured, meaningful (in light of the dozens of poor beggars outside the gates of the church!) and timely.  His English diction was perfect. side-note on the Epistle Reader...he said "Dominations" instead of "Dominions" in reading St. Paul to the Colossians!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?  "Who is my neighbor??" (pretty basic stuff for the day) - - but well tied into the idea of Samaritans being treated as one of the "Untouchable" class by Jewish society...being similar to the Indian culture.  I liked it!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?  Believe it or not, for me...the fact that the Banns of Marriage for three separate couples seeking the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Church were actually read aloud...and read properly as well!!  With all of the weddings done in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. - I'll bet there are not more than a small handful of my RC friends who even know what the "Banns" even are!!  For those "in the know" - one was the "Final time of the asking" - - the other two were "second time" verbal Banns publishing.  Thanks be to God the traditions are kept somewhere in the world!!  Again...I had to go to India to find this???  Also - - the standard "passing of the peace" - which in the modern Roman Church, Episcopal Church and Lutheran Churches (the "peace passing" at the ELCA parish we shared with back in the days of our mission of St. Barnabas was embarrassing, frankly!) that has unfortunately degenerated into a "halftime show" of  aisle walking coupled with: "The Peace of God.  Hi, howya doin'? How are the kids?  You wanna play poker next Friday? The Peace of God..." - frankly - a horrifying sidebar ... at what should be the liturgical climax and Most Holy Time of the Sacred Mass - - well, in India, the "Peace" is passed as it would be between the Sacred Ministers at a proper Solemn High Mass....the hands folded at the chest, a slight bow of the head...with the words "Namaste" or "Peace"  Yeah...heavenly!!!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?  None.  It was perfect!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?  LOL!  Sorry...I have to laugh here.  As my good friend and Eastern Orthodox Brother in Christ, Adam Lamar, wrote on my Facebook page:  "Mystery Worshipper (??) - a 6'3" 200lb white man in Romish apparel - yep, I'm sure you will blend in and disappear in any crowd in Hyderabad..." To say I was "warmly received" wouldn't quite say enough...but - to say I was "mobbed" might be overstating things a bit.  I'd say "somewhere in-between"  Oh, and Adam...thanks for the stretch-job on my height and the 85-pound "instant diet" you bestowed on my weight!!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?  There was none....people went to their vehicles and took off.  Besides...Krishna and I had to leave because it was Suzanne's birthday and we were due at the Westin for brunch fairly soon after Mass

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?  I'll go with an 8.0 here.  With some reservation.  I am a Priest of God.  And until there is an Anglican Ordinariate here within/between the TAC/the Vatican here in India, I cannot yet celebrate on this altar, which makes me sad.  The "Anglican" church in town has a "priestess" - which makes me sad.  At least I have a place to worship and receive the Body of Christ.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?  Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  Any banquet thrown in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ where He is so obviously and Really Present....that always makes me proud to be His Disciple in this Vally of Tears!!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?  O.K.  O.K.!!  I'll admit it!  I do want to wear one of those shiny Kelly Green and Gold chasubles!!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and one REALLY Ugly...

The GOOD:  Somebody asked me the other day (an American friend, if I remember correctly...) "What is it that you like so much about Hyderabad?"  There really is no short answer that can do justice to that question.  I guess you could say that it's the blending of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the calm and the crazy!  It has become my belief that it is the overall gentleness of the people here and their deeply-rooted culture... truly does make it a "blending" rather than a "clashing".  More than one person here has told me that even the most seasoned "drivers" cannot keep up with the constantly changing roads and all of the new buildings going up.  And yet, amongst all of the hustle-bustle and constant change, there is a certain peace, a certain serenity beneath it all.  It's quite hard to describe.

Those who know me know that I tend to bristle when people say to me: "Oh, Father, you know I'm not religious...I'm "spiritual"!"  I always want to slip into my Dana Carvey as The Church Lady voice when I hear that and say... "Well...isn't that special!"  But, having said that... this place called India is just steeped in spirituality.  What I mean is, while we are all, of course, spiritual beings ... (and to deny so is pure folly!) - here in this place it seems that the "spiritual nature of things" is not only clearly recognized - but it is honored!  It is feels as if that spiritual depth of our lives on this planet is just so "close to the surface" here!  Especially, it seems, at the first hours of the day as dawn is breaking. 

As dawn breaks and the wide variety of birds are waking up and letting the world know that it's time to get things started: yoga practitioners are up at first light doing Sūrya namaskāra ("Sun salutation") in the park.  The Sikhs spend the first 20-minutes of every morning quietly reciting Japji Sahib. The Muslim call to prayer can be clearly heard being chanted from minarets (large and small) all over the city at around 4:35 A.M.  There are brightly-colored and incense-filled Hindu temples where devotees are making morning pooja right down the street from here at 5:30.  The bells of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church announce the morning Mass every day at 6:30 A.M.  Hmmm.  I guess we Catholics are the late-risers here!!  But you get my point!  God is actively sought by all paths, unashamedly and passionately, every single day.

As I told my friend back home - if Deloitte called us and said that there was some sort of national emergency and we had to go back home tomorrow for good, and not to return to Hyderabad...I would be very,very sad.

*                     *                    *                    *

Other GOOD things:  It's really something...I know that in China and many other Asian countries, just about everybody smokes.  Indians seem to be very health conscious, and smoking is almost nonexistent here.  I mentioned to our driver Krishna that not many people smoke and he said: "Yes, sir.  It is a good thing!"  I agree!! 

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On the rare mornings that I have forgotten to take our iPod into the car, we listen to the radio.  Big 92.7 FM seems to be a favorite around here.  The music is what I would call "upbeat" - - dance music mostly.  Some Bollywood movie tunes.  Sort of reminds me of Benny Lava on YouTube!  Most all of the songs are in Telugu, the local language here in Hyderabad (although most folks who speak it also speak Hindi and English)  The funny part: listening to songs and disc-jockeys who speak "Telenglish".  It's like "Spanglish" in Los Angeles...a blend of the two languages.  I can almost follow the DJ's when they slip into a Teleglish patter - I love the "birthday dedications" obviously some of them are written or e-mailed to the station in English.

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The BAD:  Well - - I don't know if it's really "bad", exactly.  Perhaps potentially "dangerous" is more like it. 

Each morning I go for a walk to the little park down by Stone Valley Apartments with the Beloved the Lhasa Apso. ALMOST every morning, there are these young girls in sarees, they look to be teenagers - and appear to be housekeepers or servant-girls of some sort for the houses and larger apartments nearby. These girls are plucking leaves and flowers from some of the local OLEANDER PLANTS!! Now, I'm 99% certain that they ARE oleander plants...we have them at home in L.A., too.

So I asked my friend, Rajan Chopra, (the man who guided Amy and I through our FRRO experience several weeks back!) - - "Hey, Rajan - what gives??  OLEANDER LEAVES ARE A DEADLY POISON!!! Do you have any idea what the girls are doing and what are they wanting oleander leaves for??? The only thing that makes sense is that they are making rat poison!!  Please advise."

Rajan got back to me with this GREAT explanation that seems to make sense:

"South Indians are more traditional and ritualistic then North Indians, follow the religious rules by the book. Its custom for the lady of the House to get up at sunrise, have a bath, get ready for Puja, (it's quite elaborate) and Flowers are a very important part of the ritual.

The time of day is important. The hours on either side of dawn are considered most auspicious for worship, for they are influenced by the quality of goodness.

They pluck fresh flowers and certain leaves, which also specifies the type of flower/leaves etc. In a typical Brahman or South Indian colony, one can see people of all ages go around with a stick and bag to collect the flowers starting early in the morning.

Hinduism is notable for its emphasis on home worship. Most Hindus have a shrine at home. For some this will be a few pictures on a shelf in the living room or kitchen. Others, particularly the more wealthy, will dedicate a whole room to worship and meditation.

The shrine will contain images of the family's chosen deity, either as a framed picture or in the form of a murti. Worship is often a scaled-down version of the elaborate puja performed in the mandir and performed by the ladies of the household, early in the mornings. Children may also be taught their tradition by actively involving them in such worship.

In some homes, all food is offered to the deities before eating. In order to keep the home pure and sanctified, Hindu people usually do not wear shoes inside. Most Hindus consider it essential to bathe at least once a day, especially before worship.

I suppose, now with more and more Housewives working , their schedules have to be time managed, so they ask the girls to help them out and they like to set out looking their best, socialising, picking flowers and leaves or whatever comes easy, do a quick Pooja and carry on with the day.

At times we Indians are very or should I say over ritualistic and try to balance both worlds with the changes happening around us, catching up with the spurt in economic / technology / income opportunities. The rapidly changing scenario , and trying to adapt ourselves , is also a very interesting Indian trend . I too am apart of it."

Wow!  Thank you, Rajan!!  That was a great explanation!!  The things we can learn here if we just keep our ears and our minds open!!

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The REALLY UGLY:  There was a rape of an American girl this week.  Right here in Banjara Hills, too.  I am so glad that we have Sangamesh, our trusty security guard who remains on duty, rain or shine, every night!  I seems that the poor girl has been in Hyderabad since 2007.  She has been renting a downstairs single bedroom with house-privileges, in a nice neighborhood, from a retired professor.  At 3:00 in the morning, young man entered her bedroom (the police do not know how and she did not know him) and held her at gun-point.  After tying her up and raping her...he took a bath and escaped.  I have not heard that the rapist has been caught.
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I cannot end this post on such a down note: 
So, as it turns out, there are these high-pressure little hoses hanging in all of our bathrooms at the house. Right next to the toilets. They each have those "pistol grip" nozzles. I thought they were for "washing your feet" or something. Until I saw one in a public "washroom" yesterday. As it turns out...they have - UHHHH... ANOTHER PURPOSE!!! (P.S. They are very cool! Every bathroom needs one!!)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thursday Forecast: "More Rain and Less Golf"

It's been two weeks since I last wrote a report for on the golfing conditions here.  That's mostly because there has only been one more round of golf played at Boulder Hills C.C. since then. It's truly "Monsoon Season" now here in Hyderabad...and, for whatever reason, the south-west district of Gachibowli seems to catch a lot of the rainfall. We got 7 cm last night....probably 20 cm in the last week-and-a-half. The Monsoons are seasonal, and the rains can be intense and long-lasting. There might not be a whole lot more golf played before the season ends and we get into the months of September and October, which I have heard are just "golfer's heaven"!

A bit of a geography lesson: Hyderabad lies in the middle of the Deccan Plateau (also called the (Great) Peninsular Plateau, or Deccan "Plain") - which is a large plateau in India, making up the majority of the southern part of the country. It rises a hundred metres high in the north, rising further to more than a kilometre high in the south, forming a raised triangle nested within the familiar downward-pointing triangle of the Indian subcontinent's coastline.

The name Deccan is an Anglicized form of the Prakrit word dakkhin, itself derived from the Sanskrit word dáksina meaning "south". The Deccan Plain extends over eight Indian states and encompasses a wide range of habitats, covering most of central and southern India.

We are located between three mountain ranges: the Western Ghats form the Deccan Plain's western boundary, and the Eastern Ghats are its eastern boundary. Each rises from their respective nearby coastal plains and nearly meet at the southern tip of India. The Deccan Plain is separated from the Gangetic plain to the north by the Satpura and Vindhya Ranges, which form its northern boundary.

Because the Deccan Plateau lies south of the Indo-Gangetic plain, and the fact that the Western Ghats Mountain Range is tall and blocks the moisture from the southwest monsoon from reaching the Deccan Plateau, our region receives very little rainfall, at least by comparison to the rest of the country. The eastern Deccan Plateau, which is down slope from Hyderabad, is at a lower elevation spanning the southeastern coast of India. For the most part, our forests are also relatively dry but serve to retain the rain to form streams that feed into rivers that flow into basins and then into the Bay of Bengal.

You see the term "Deccan" used here a lot. The Hyderabadi professional cricket team is called the Deccan Chargers, the local English Language newspaper (which I read religiously!) is called the Deccan Chronicle. There is Deccan Cement, The Taj Deccan Hotel (five-stars and really beautiful!), Deccan College of Engineering and get the picture. It's all Deccan, all the time!

It's Thursday morning, 8 July at around 8:22 A.M. And,'s raining!! I'm getting a later start than usual because I stayed up watching ESPN - and Spain giving Germany a football lesson. (I'll read all about it again in the "D.C."!!) Despite all of the world interest in the FIFA World Cup - here in Hyderabad, one sport is King: CRICKET! They play it in the smallest, oddest places, too. Pick-up games in dirt lots (there's not a lot of grass outside of some local parks - where signs say "No cricket playing is allowed!")...I even saw some boys playing a "stickball version" of the game on the street nearby...wickets made from stacked-and-balanced crooked sticks, a tennis ball and a mop-handle for a bat! There are some very nice fields, too...and more than one stadium. The local companies sponsor teams for intramural and inter-company league play. My wife Suzanne just agreed to sponsor one of the men's teams for Deloitte. When the season starts up, we'll be going to a lot of Deloitte men's cricket matches, of that I am sure!! I keep telling her that I'll be happy to buy her a cricket bat if she would like to go out for the women's team! She said she'll get back to me on that!

But back to my favorite sport. For the golf course at Boulder Hills, the monsoons are both a blessing and a curse. The summer here on the Deccan Plain this year was brutal. The hottest, they say, in a century. Fahrenheit temps were 105 - 111 for weeks-upon-weeks!! Now with the soothing rains, the ground and the golf course turf is drinking up the pelting drops. And "pelt" they do!! When it really gets to raining hard, each raindrop could fill a shot glass, I swear. The entire course is getting to be so's greening up very nicely!  While the course overall seems to drain well...the bunkers took a hammering and several of them have lost most of their sand. The grounds keeping crew at BHCC does a really good job keeping up - - but - some bunkers are going to take some heavy equipment to fix! The grounds crew are quietly ever-present when you go out for a round of golf!  But I think the course will be playing a little less-than-at-its-best for a while now. Even for the best of greenskeepers, there is no way to "catch-up" if the rain won't "let-up".

I enjoyed playing a quick nine-holes two days ago. I went out with my friend, David, who was leaving last night for a month-long trip home to the it looked like "now or never" if we were going to get a chance to play together before he left. It was going to be nice for me, because - in the rest of the rounds I have played at the country club...I had yet to see another golfer out on the course. People from Southern California will not understand the concept!! So - - raining or not...out we went!! Yes, there was a steady drizzle and, yes, we got wet. But I was playing so well, I felt kind of like the Bishop in Caddyshack...who goes out with Bill Murray as his caddy as a storm is brewing, and then stays out in the pouring rain to finish a round-for-the-ages...only to get struck by lightning and killed after he misses his putt on the final hole - yelling "Oh, rat farts!" at God!

I was not having the round of a lifetime like the good Bishop.  I was hitting the ball fairly well...and I was hitting greens in regulation.  I was in a nasty bunker on hole #2...and that was one of the traps that had taken on a lot of water. The "sand" was hurting, at best, - completey gone and "down-to-the-dirt" at the very worst! The rain let up after about 5 holes. The break in the showers brought out my old friend "Mr. Peacock" on the seventh hole. He's huge...a majestic bird with a full-spread of tail feathers and a iridescent blue neck that is like no other color in nature's crayon box of colors!

The greens - overall - are still painfully slow...and - when they are wet...give even a 10'-putt a pretty good whack! Many putts, especially the uphill variety, will be left short on the best of days!! Of course, being so wet, they can't mow them and roll them properly. The rain and lack of time for me (Amy Suzanne and I had a yoga class scheduled!) limited me to nine holes, but David played the front-side again...BECAUSE THE BACK SIDE WAS CLOSED FOR AERATING AND TOP-DRESSING!! Hey, JohnnyGK - - make sure Boulder Hills makes the maintenance list!! "Know before you go!!"

It will be a while before things heal enough out there for me to go back out.  Thanks for reading our blog! I'll post more about golf in Hyderabad when the rain lets up.'s still raining as I type this final sentence!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A New Week....and some New Thoughts for 6 July 2010

Our week here begins on Tuesday.  This is because, until things change, Amy Suzanne's "days-off" are Sundays and Mondays.  There is a reason I have placed the phrase "days off" in quotation marks.  In her business, especially being that we are a full "day" ahead (actually, it's 12.5 hours) of West-Coast time, there always seems to be the nightly/mandatory "10:00 P.M. conference call" with one group or another back in the "Pacific Southwest".  "Day off" or not!  I usually don't mind...I made certain to bring along our Bose QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones for just such purposes.  Coupled with my trusty iPod, I can escape into a blissful hour or so of good old American rock-n'-roll, some great Gregorian Chant or some sweet four-part-harmony Bluegrass Gospel (a'la "Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver")... 

You see...."Home" is never any further away than your iPod!

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Speaking of Bluegrass music...because our new Skoda Laura came with an "auxiliary" hook-up for the iPod, we have have the ability to blast some "road-trip" music for when we are out driving around Hyderabad.  It's a tough call at 5:30 in the morning...every morning, with liturgical precision, Big 92.7 FM Radio plays the morning's proper poojaToday, as tough as it was for me, we had to turn off a beautiful Chalisa in praise of HanumanOn most mornings, when we take Suzanne to work, she much prefers to listen to her favorite:  Bruce Springsteen!  And - of course - we let her!!  After all (and we almost bought her a t-shirt that said this: "(She) has the skills to pay the bills!"

However, after she is safely out of the car (and out of earshot!) - I have taken to switching over to listen to a little Silly Wizard (Scottish, for my friend Angie Shields in Glasgow!) - or, a little Bluegrass music, usually something from Doyle Lawson.   This has allowed me to continually expand our driver Krishna's English vocabulary since we got the car.  Today, on the way home from Deloitte, we added the following to his growing lexicon of "useful" English terminology: "Bluegrass music", "Dobro", "banjo" and "Gospel".  I must admit, we're having a little trouble with the pronunciation on "mandolin" - but we're working on it!!  Willy, Max and Fate, I thought you'd enjoy that!

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As today's subject seems to be "music" - - I really need to bring this one up:  Here in Hyderabad, some of the clothing stores that cater to "the younger crowd" just *love* to play LOUD rap music for their customers. However....there seems to be one *slight* problem with this practice. You see....they have absolutely no clue what the lyrics are actually saying!!   I guess that they know that it's Western music, so it MUST be cool, right??

I'll refrain from posting the lyrics that we heard the other day.  Let's just say that Amy turned to me and said: "Wait a second...did I just hear what I think they just said??"  Uh...guys... fo' shizzle - a word to the wise:  Hire someone to translate for you...PLEASE!

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For most of our daily supplies and food, we seem to have settled on one particular store (it also happens to be the closest, by far!)  There are a couple of other good ones, too...and, actually, there are far bigger ones (Hyper-City and Spar).  But, for's the trusty "Q-Mart".  Beside the fact that they seem to have most of the food that we most enjoy (and a freaking unbelievable bakery upstairs!!) - it was there at the local Q-Mart in Banjara Hills that we met our new friends "from home"**.  On July 4th, while shopping, we noticed some people in the produce-section who looked "a little different" than the usual  "Q-Mart shoppers" that one might see on a Sunday.  Sealing our new friendship was the fact that they cried out "Happy Fourth!" to us as we were deciding what kind of cheeses to buy for the week!  Making the friendship of the "lifelong" variety was the fact that one of the gals was from Orange County...and went to U.S.C.!!  Fight On!!  She works for the U.S. Consulate General here in town, and is our neighbor right here in Banjara Hills.  To be honest, the fact that Christiana has an extensive DVD collection might just put her into the "BFF" category!

**  N.B.  I guess that "from home" is not exactly the truth.  Besides Christiana, our trio of new friends actually included a fellow from Norway (I think that's where Rasmus said he was from!  Maybe it was Sweden"!) and another girl who is from Iceland.  She was funny.  She said not to blame her for "the volcano":  "It's not my fault!"

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Yesterday, I had my first in-home yoga session with Neeraj.  We met Neeraj at the Latitudes gym one day when Amy and went there together.  Neeraj showed Amy how to use the machines and how to work her "core" - she was pretty sore for almost two days after working - obviously Neeraj knows what he is doing!  He also was shamelessly "hitting on" my wife the whole time...which was pretty strange, but kind of funny!  Aims said to me that she was a little embarrassed by it, and said she wanted to tell him that "I'm old enough to be your grandmother!" - but I noticed that she didn't!  Looks-wise and body-type-wise, Neeraj reminds me a lot of Yuichi Ohi, my godsend trainer from back home (shown here in this pic "running" the L.A, Marathon with his "other" famous client, actor Shia Labeouf!  Three-months training and they finished!  Yuichi is my hero!)  And, much like Yuichi, Neeraj pulls no punches - either at the gym, training...or doing yoga downstairs here at the house...telling me that I need to lose weight (he's very observant, too, as you can tell!).  The difference is, when Yuich would move you from machine-to-machine, position to position, he might say "Let's go over here and do some biceps..."  With's more like "Get UP!!"

The guy knows his stuff, too!  I think for a complete "yoga rookie", I did O.K.  He told me that I had the basement (where we've set up our home "gym" and yoga "studio") "much too cold" - - so - he made me turn off the A.C.  Because of this, I think I turned Amy's new yoga "sticky mat" into something much more like the consistency of a wet dish-rag.  I haven't sweat that much since I made my Confession after our trip to New Orleans in 1999!  I was able to do most of the poses and stretching...a couple of times I discovered how truly un-flexible I am...and that my balance needs more than a little work... but Neeraj insists that "after ten regular sessions, I should be noticing a great improvement".  Either that or I'll be in traction in the E.R. at Apollo Hospital!  Actually - it felt good, and I know that I slept a whole lot better last night!  Amy and I are BOTH going to try it again tonight.  I may have to keep Neeraj and Amy's mats apart, though!  :-D

Oh, by the way, Yuichi - we talked about this before we left - - you really don't want to know what Neeraj charges us for a whole month of in-home daily training!!

Oṃ śānti śānti śānti, y'all!!

Father K.