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Archive for Life

Portrait of Happiness – One Part Love, One Part Arrangement

On our wedding day in February 2002, we did not have a photographer so I decided to create a small collection of paintings to commemorate our special day. I saw this image of us in one of the candid photos taken with our camera and the first thought was that it was a portrait of happiness. My brother-in-law Prasanna seems to recall taking the picture and a sense of satisfaction that he captured something good. He did, and I am forever grateful that I have this one good image.

Portrait of Happiness Hindu Wedding Ceremony by oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

Portrait of Happiness Hindu Wedding Ceremony by oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

My husband and I were instructed, by the Brahmin Pandit Phadke, during the wedding ceremony to “go to the window, look out and find signs of Nature.” It is important that the wedding couple finds a sign of Nature, as they need to witness to God’s presence in their life. Nature, being sustained by God, lives without effort or thought of how it will live. The couple is to realize that God is the active force underneath their lives, sustaining them, not man.

I had been sitting through an hour of Sanskrit and Marathi not understanding a word of what was being said. When we went over to the window I swept back the windows covering in a flourish and began singing in a low voice for his ears only, “The hills are alive with the sounds of music” since it just seemed like the perfect tune to greet the sunlight pouring through the window. It was even more funny because outside the window was nothing but cement buildings, steel pipes, electrical wires, rooftops, and billboard signs. The pollution obscured the sun to some extent and reduced the colors of the view to white, lavender, blues and grays. The hills were alive with business and traffic, not the songs of birds and bees, burbling creeks flowing over well-polished rocks, nor the whisper of the wind in the trees.  Had we not claimed to see signs of nature the priest would have started that part of the ceremony all over again, as is rumored. This portrait of happiness is quite genuine for another reason, albeit a hidden one.

oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar in a saree

oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar in a saree

After 3.5 months of backpacking through India, spending just over 2 weeks on trains, a few days on boats and share jeep rides with a side of terror, we were about to go home. I will never forget one moment of this phenomenal adventure through India, but I sure wish I had a photo of my face upon returning to the US. Now that would be a real portrait of happiness.


Lighthouse Beach Kovalam – A Foodie’s Paradise and Photographer’s Dream

Our favorite beach in Kerela is Lighthouse Beach Kovalam. Here we had glorious times relaxing, eating extremely well, drinking lattes made from water buffalo milk and cold, illegal beers. Kerela is a “dry state” in part because it has a Communist ruling party. Beers are sold under the guide of “large coffee/tea” with a wink and a smile. Our days were spent body surfing in the Indian Ocean ignoring touts. Often we would venture north to watch the fishermen haul in their nets.

Lighthouse Beach Kovalam Sunset

Lighthouse Beach Kovalam Sunset

It didn’t take long for us to realize that after all our traveling around that we had found a place to blow off the rest of our itinerary. Clear skies, glowing red sunsets over the Arabian Sea, hot summer-like days and warm balmy nights, complete with really good international non-vegetarian restaurants made this place paradise! With few tourists in town, the place was ours. We are now totally convinced that the best time to travel is during a war since regular travelers were not out and about; we had first choice on where to stay and we negotiated the prices down further. Restaurants vied for our business practically grabbing us by the arm to bring us inside to show us their menus. It was all very friendly, and understandable.

Lighthouse Beach Kovalam

The Lighthouse at Lighthouse Beach Kovalam

For a while I stopped keeping track of the days in my travelogue and we simply got in synch with the beach lifestyle. We’d wake up around 8 o’clock, have a two-hour breakfast lingering over coffees, stroll back to our room, put on a bathing suit, slather sunscreen lotion all over our bodies, grab water bottles, sarongs, and sunglasses and walk a few yards to the beach and soak up the sun until one of us couldn’t take the heat any longer. Then we’d amble down to the water and wade through the oncoming waves until we were out far enough to body surf back to shore on a seriously good wave. Hours were spent catching waves back to shore. Then we’d spend an hour to drying off often snoozing in the sand.

Everyday we had to wave off and curse the pesky touts and then roll over to ensure an even tan. We used to joke that when the touts came by it was time to rollover.

About two o’clock we’d wander down the row of restaurants and select a new place to have some lunch. Sometimes we’d bring a book to read and made it a three-hour lunch.

Returning to our room, we’d shower off the lotion, salt and sand, and dress for cocktail hour. Given that Kerala is a “dry” state, cocktail hour has special meaning. We soon learned which places really serve up. A brief exploration of curbside menus and we’d have an early dinner, followed by a nightcap somewhere else.

Every night before bed we would leisurely walk the length of the beach along the water’s edge, enjoying the lights of this tiny beach resort area, and ponder how we got to be so lucky. And almost two weeks passed without a change in the directions of “lather, rinse, repeat.”

Kerala Girls on Lighthouse Beach Kovalam Kerala India

Kerala Girls on Lighthouse Beach Kovalam Kerala India

One day these teenage girls, depicted in this oil painting, were visiting the beach with their teacher who was there to celebrate her birthday. They were dressed up with jasmine flowers in their hair and looked gorgeous standing ankle deep in the surf. This scene captures the moment for me and the spontaneous beauty that occurs on this Lighthouse Beach Kovalam.

“Girls on Lighthouse Beach Kovalam, Kerela, India” by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar. Oils on canvas, 12×16, signed June 2004.


Traditional Hindu Foods and Our Beloved Kitchen Terrorist

Traditional Hindu Foods, oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar, India, Art

Oil Painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar of Aji Nirmala Kelkar

Post Munja (Thread) Ceremony in Pune, India, Anand’s maternal grandmother (aji) was sitting at the table that was laid out with a feast of traditional Hindu foods. She had waited for the ceremonies to be over so she could see us in our fancy dress and watch us eat the classic Brahmin food that had been specially prepared for the feast over the last three days. Before we sat down to eat, she insisted that Anand’s mother and my “Indian foster mother” who were already exhausted from their early morning efforts, put rangoli in a colorful and decorative design around our plates that we were going to eat from.

Aji got the nickname of “Kitchen Terrorist” from me after we realized that she had driven all the hired help to quitting, and her own children crazy with demands from the kitchen, the pantry, appetizers and meal requests that were out of season and out of the question. In her heyday she had been the most awesome cook according to her family and friends. After she broke her hip and had some other health issues that prevented her from standing up, she became a bedridden dictator much to the sorrow of everyone near and dear to her.

It took me under three minutes to quickly taste my tiny portions, which Anand’s mother thoughtfully placed on my plate, knowing full well that I wouldn’t like or want to eat any of it. My problem with the food in India is difficult for me to explain. I don’t like heavily sweetened foods, especially fruit; I have sensory aversions to the smell and taste of curry leaf and heavy saffron flavors; additionally I do not like lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, okra or eggplant; and at the time I was doing my best not to eat carbs like rice, flour, potatoes, refined grains or other root vegetables. Take a wild guess what traditional Brahmin food is loaded with? Sugars and starches. Aji was at a loss to understand me and why I would not partake in her traditional Hindu foods.

Traditional Hindu foods are used on holy days. They abstain from strong herbs and spices, such as garlic, onions and chilies as they are too stimulating when one is to be in a meditative or prayerful state.

This oil painting is on canvas and measures 12″ x 16″.

Hindu Fire Ceremony As Still Life Painting

Hindu Fire Ceremony, oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar, Art, India

Hindu Fire Ceremony by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (signed with her Hindu name “Amrita”)

A Hindu Fire Ceremony is something to behold. The natural ingredients are dried cow patties, mango sticks, ghee (clarified butter), dried grasses and string made from coir, marigolds, rice, copper bowls and basic clay bricks present a lovely collection of textures and harmonious colors.

This oil painting is on cotton canvas and measures 20″x24″.

Personal Story About This Hindu Fire Ceremony

Half way through my husband Anand’s Munja’s Hindu fire ceremony, the fire that was built using dried cow-patties, a few twigs and fueled heavily by ghee started smoking to high heavens. The recreation hall doors were all open, and the wind was changing directions causing the priests to lean left then right in a weak attempt to avoid the smoke as they chanted their lines. I ran around the room closing windows and doors trying to channel the smoke between the gents, but each time the wind outwitted me.

Anand, patient as ever and acting respectful, was completely smoked out as the flames worked to steady themselves in the clocking breeze.

I turned to his Uncle Kumar and said, “I know Anand, as a scientist, must be hating every minute of this and he is probably staying put to make this part of the ceremony end fast. Can’t we do something about the smoke?”

Kumar-mama just laughed and said, “Don’t you know Annie, it is a holy fire making holy smoke that will purify Anand.” Right. All I understood was that my sweetheart had to inhale the ash and smoke from burning cow dung, which motivated me to make one more attempt to channel the draft. When I successfully directed the smoke between the Pandits and away from Anand, sure enough it was all over in another two minutes.

Hindu fire ceremonies are pleasant enough. Between the chanting of the priests to the gods and the simple offerings it is a reflective time. If you ever have a chance to sit through one take it!




Fireworks for Sale – Garberville, CA

Two octogenarians are selling fireworks to send disadvantaged teens to summer camp in Richardson’s Grove, a Humboldt County redwood forest camp. Marie Moore, 82 (L) and Rose Butler, 80 (R) are busy ladies and just won’t slow down! Rose has 33 tomato plants and loves to garden. Her family, at one time, was the caretaker for Benbow Inn when it was for sale. They were the picture of small town America and I asked them if they would be so kind to pose for me. Happy Independence Day!

This is a photo of Marie Moore and Rose Butler of Garberville, CA in their fireworks sales booth.

The Real Sparklers of Garberville, CA

Terranea Resort and Beauty in the Eye of the Dessert Beholder

I can’t help myself; I see beauty everywhere, especially in Nature. Next, I see beauty in objects that Nature inspired, like cake. And I take photo after photo of those moments that catch my eye because I love to share, make greeting cards or paintings from them and of course, they provide me with thousands of vivid memories or inspiration.

It was a beautiful day on the coast. Sea birds, birds of prey, dolphins and whales spouting in the water made it a magical day atop the bluffs in Palos Verde, CA. It wasn’t quite happy hour; more like afternoon tea. A coffee and small bite of something decadent was just the ticket and Sea Beans Cafe inside the hotel grounds is just the thing a traveler needs for a little pick-me-up. Here are some of my images from my visit to this cafe at Terranea in January.

This is a photo of the chalkboard menu inside the Sea Beans Cafe at Terranea Resort.

This has YUMMM written all over it.

This is a photo of the dessert display case inside the Sea Beans Cafe at Terranea Resort.

What's not to like? I'll take one of everything.

This is a photo of candy signage in front of a tray of gourmet chocolates.

Stop and think about this for a moment. Read the sign again and let your imagination take flight. Yes, two servings will help confirm that you got the tasting notes correct!

This is a photo of handmade chocolate cups filled with Tiramisu dessert at Sea Beans Cafe in Terranea Resort.

It does more than pick you leaves you changed forever.

This is a photo of a pecan tartlette.

For times when you feel a bit nutty.

This is a photo of a a fruit tartlette at Sea Beans Cafe in Terranea Resort.


Surfer Dude car in Laguna Beach

Note that this surfer has a tail, so maybe the dreadlocks are the mane of a lion?  And the board may have teeth!

Surfer dude car

Taken April 9, 2011

Close-up of surfer dude car

Port of San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA – Restaurants Around the Cruise Ship Terminal

There are five noteworthy food places near the cruise ship terminal and one not so noteworthy. In order of quality, with the last one being so-so, I give you my take on the places we wined, dined or grabbed snacks at while in the Port of San Pedro.

This is a photo of the exterior of the Whale and Ale Pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Look for this wonderful pub when in port.

1.) Whale and Ale – British Pub and Restaurant
Atmosphere: Casual, typical pub decor, dark wood paneling and beautiful bar
Noise: no problem during the day (no reference for nighttime)
Stars for it’s category: 5
Price: $$ 1/2
Upon walking in I noticed the silence of the people enjoying a late lunch. I mention the silence because where I come from, if no one is talking the food is so incredible, they can’t stop eating long enough to talk let alone breathe. Since there wasn’t a cruise ship in town, nor one expected for two more days, I assumed that the folks enjoying lunch were locals. A quick chat with Gail, a friendly bartender revealed that the majority of their business is from locals and not cruisers.

This is a photo of the carving of a whale over the bar in the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Now, this is one smug whale!

This is a photo of Anand Kolatkar at the Whale and Ale Pub in Port San Pedro, CA enjoying a cold pint of Guiness.


This is a photo of a plate of pub chips (french fries) with a side of curry mayonaise.

Pub Chips with Curry Mayonaise

Since it was mid-day for us and we had already eaten lunch and were just passing time until happy hour, we ordered a basket of chips and a couple pints. It was perfect! The entire menu looked thoughtful, extensive and wonderful so we vowed to return to sample some of the gourmet items on the menu.

This is a photo of the menu at the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Have something with the pig's ear!

PS: Next to the pub is a darling little shop if you are into elegant, vintage or upscale home decor with a penchant for English (Stratfordshire) bone china tea cups and tea pots. Here you will find the miniature silver spoons for your sugar bowls and unique table items from candlesticks to napkin rings. Let your inner hostess emerge at the Garden Shop!

This is a photo of the gift shop next door to the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Garden Shop - Port of San Pedro, CA

This is a photo of Mishi's Cafe store front window in Port San Pedro, CA.

Mishi's Cafe Store Front

2.) Mishi’s Strudel Bakery and Cafe – Homemade Hungarian Food
Atmosphere: Casual, artsy, bright interior
Noise: no problem
Stars for it’s category: 4.5
Price: $$

Aside from the classic European facade painted on the windows with wrought iron cafe tables out front that alerted me that I was in for something delightful, I was greeted with one of the warmest, most cheerful smiles by a cafe server when I walked in the door. Cerlie (meaning “Happy” in Malaysian) helped us select our breakfast menu items and worked efficiently to have everything to the table in as little time as possible. This is an important mention because strudel takes time to make and bake. There is a process to strudel that takes time and the food is fresh, hot and delicious as a natural consequence! We observed that people who don’t have time to wait for their order, may not want to order strudel. Since we were first inside at opening, we got served immediately.

This is a photo of bacons and eggs and a croissant at Mishi's Strudel Cafe.

Breakfast at Mishi's Strudel Cafe

This particular Friday morning followed  “First Thursday of the Month” where this art district neighborhood is open until midnight as they showcase works of art, singers, musicians, poets and more and this cafe was shorthanded by three women workers due to the demands of the previous night. It also affected the remaining supply of strudel choices since they sold out a number of flavors the night before. However, I can’t imagine this place having a bad strudel.

This is a photo of Mishi's Strudel Cafe store front window on the left.

All it needs to say is "Yummmm!"

Their coffee is organic and imported from Guatemala. I had one of the most incredible Americano coffee drinks ever. Smooth, round, not a trace of bitterness, great scent and a long finish; this was perfection in a cup.

This is a photo of beef strudel from Mishi's Strudel Cafe in Port San Pedro, CA.

Mishi's Beef Strudel

Feeling hungry and somewhat adventurous, I opted for the beef strudel which is something I never have had before. WOW! It was seasoned with just the right amount of onion and Hungarian paprika. There were other spices in it, but I couldn’t readily identify them except to say that it was very similar to a ground beef taco filling. Now, I’ll admit, that sounds almost offensive to say that the Hungarian strudel tasted like Mexican food, but it was very similar…and I couldn’t eat enough of it it was that good!

My daughter, almost three, loved the little pickles they serve on the side. (For me, it would be sacrilegious to mix coffee and pickles first thing in the morning). And, as you can see from the chair she is sitting in, the decor is shabby chic living room-coffeehouse.

This is a photo of Arabella in Michi's Strudel Cafe sitting in an upholstered armchair.

Goldilocks thinks this chair is just right!

This is a photo of flourless almond strudel.

Flourless Almond Strudel

This is a photo of a small sample of cookies we bought at Mishi's Strudel Cafe for the ride home.

A small box of TOTALLY AWESOME cookies 'to go' with their TOTALLY AWESOME coffee for our ride home.

This is a photo of the shipping channel from the deck of Ports O' Call restaurant in Port of San Pedro, CA.

January Sunset on the Port San Pedro Shipping Channel

3.) Ports O’ Call – Happy Hour at the bar
Atmosphere: Casual, Wharf side
Noise: no problem inside or out
Stars for it’s category: 2
Price: $$

The first thing I loved about this place was the wide open deck overlooking the shipping channel with its multiple heaters overhead and brick fireplaces. It faces south somewhat which means the sun isn’t in your eyes at sunset and the sun bathes the red cranes and ships in warm light creating a soft and somewhat inviting panorama of what would otherwise be a cold, hard, mechanical, industrial scene. Cargo, fire, tugboats and cruise ships all pass within yards of your front row seat on the channel and I happen to love the atmosphere here being a sailor of many, many years.

This is a photo of a man and his little daughter next to the fire pit on the deck of the Ports O' Call bar in Port of San Pedro, CA.

Fi-Er. Fiiiii Errr. Ooooo. Fire.

This is a photo of a plate of deep fried chicken tenders and two dipping sauces at Port O' Call bar in Port of San Pedro, CA.

Port O' Call - fabulous chicken appetizer with delicious, hot, spicy sauce and Ranch dressing.

There are free appetizers inside the bar area during Happy Hour. Tortilla chips and salsa, taco makings and cheese cubes. Nothing noteworthy, in fact, nothing special at all. Since it is free food, and didn’t taste all that great, I’d say it was cheap and nasty. Teasers, not pleasers. I don’t eat this kind of food so I avoid it.

We enjoyed the simple and inexpensive house merlot and cabernet sauvignon with 1/3 lb Angus burgers that were nicely priced at $5. And all our waitresses were attentive and efficient with their service.

The creme brulee gets an “F” for failure.
A small hankering for something sweet overcame me and I asked to see the dessert menu. There were the typical items you see in restaurants these days from a vial of fresh strawberries with cream, warmed chocolate lava cake, cheesecake and creme brulee. I ordered the latter. It was the most bizarre creme brulee I ever ate and I do not recommend it. The sugar on top was not crisp in fact I had to look closely to make sure it was even there at all. Using the light of a cellphone I began examining the creme brulee for what was wrong with it. A strange substrata of brown colored custard on the bottom and lighter cream on top could only be the result of improper technique and bad ingredients. The cold sweat on the ramikin and on the sugar topping told me this had been made in advance and was sitting in a fridge. It was disgusting.


4.) Ante’s – Traditional Dalmatian Coast Food (Croatia)

Atmosphere: semi-casual with deep traditional booths
Noise: no problem
Stars for it’s category: 3.5-5
Price: $$$

I had to do some research to determine a few things before I could write a review of this food. I had a hunch that this Croatian food from the Dalmatian Coast was not to be judged in haste. If you like bland, healthy food that is properly cooked, you’ll think it is five star cuisine; if you like lots of garlic, flavor and complex seasoning you’ll be heavily disappointed in this regional cooking. The food was incredibly fresh, no doubt, but it was very plain. Looking around at the clientele, you notice that everyone appears to be of retirement age. And, I think that this is comfort food for any stomach that can’t handle too much in the way of herbs and spices. One friend who would move to Croatia in a heartbeat said that when she was there she noted that the motto of the chefs seems to be “Catch it, kill it, grill it.” Need I say more?

The wine list was very good. The bar was very well stocked and our friends and us were of the opinion that this would be an EXCELLENT place to grab a traditional martini since the ambiance was so RETRO! You know the place, it’s where all the young  dotcommers went after work because they thought they were looking and acting so cool when they found their mom and dad’s dive bar and had their first cocktail.

Our meals were simple: slices of roast lamb (sans seasoning), baked potato, steamed vegetables. Salmon in garlic and olive oil, steamed vegetables, with rice and leeks. The rice with leeks was very bland, but with a pat of butter, salt and pepper we were beginning to get somewhere. My chicken and veal risotto I chose so that I could have a gluten free meal to share with my little daughter. This massive bowl of risotto would have fed the entire table! Yet, it was very plain and I felt obliged to salt and pepper it and add some butter. No one could say the meal was anything but good, home-style cooking yet, it was nothing to write home about. It had good, strong, quality ingredients and nothing that would give youdigestive problems later if you had a sensitive gut.

A small side note: I noticed all the to-go bags were recycled Whole Foods grocery bags. Upon asking our hilarious waitress, Kate who was able to overlook any of her shortcomings with a boisterous laugh, she told me that the chef sends a runner to the local Whole Foods in Longbeach to buy many ingredients for the restaurant. A+, chef!

5.) Off the Vine – Wine and cheese store up the street from the cruise terminal on 6th street
Stars for it’s category: 4.5
Price: $$

Looking for a good bottle of wine? and some cheese to go with it? Here you will find a wonderful array of delicious cheeses and friendly owners to coach and guide you in just the right selection. No one is more cut out for this business than this couple. We enjoyed two sheep milk cheeses from Spain,the  most notable one being the Manchego.It was by far one of the best Manchego’s I had ever had, so this gets them an A+ on their score card. They have over 200 wines that they sell for under $25 and have some nice services for cruisers. They are located around the corner from the Warner theater.

This is a photo of the storefront of Sacred Grounds Coffee Cafe - Port San Pedro, CA.

Look for the theater marquee and all the skateboarders outside.

6.) Sacred Grounds – Coffee Cafe

Atmosphere: Very casual, living room
Noise: no problem inside or out
Stars for it’s category: 1
Price: $$

Umm, in all honesty, I’d have to tell you that the coffee at Mishi’s was a thousand times better than this coffeehouse so avoid it completely. That being said, the groovy dude from Jamaica was friendly to each and everyone he greeted and made an amazing mocha for Anand. He takes his barista duties quite seriously and I would say that every step was a pleasure to watch from packing the espresso to measuring the cocoa and the final topping of whipped cream.

Again, you can get awesome coffee, pastry and free wi-fi at Mishi’s so unless you want a more grungy setting to hang out in, I’d skip Sacred Grounds and go straight to Mishi’s.

“The Flower Fields” in Carlsbad, CA – Part II

This is a photo of red ranunculus at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA.

Red Ranunculus

Giant Tecolote Ranunculas are in great abundance at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA. In my earlier post (Part I), I went over the features and now I just want to post about the other flowers and show how they are arranged since gardening is one of my favorite past times. The oil painter and photographer in me goes wild with excitement at the massive opportunities to be creative with the vibrant images I brought home with me from the fields. I’ve made plenty of greeting cards from my images and my brain is reeling from the Impressionistic paintings that could be created from the flowers in the landscape.

Here my favorite Artist’s Garden Project photos below.

This is a photo of the artist's garden in The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA.

Blooms in the Artist's Garden

This is a photo of the artist's garden in The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA.

Artist's Garden - Raised Flower Beds in Bloom

This is a photo of the artist's garden in The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA.

Behind the Picket Fence

This is a photo of yellow and orange Nasturtiums.


This is a photo of red Gazanias.

Red Gazanias

This is a photo of miniature, yellow daisy plants.

Miniature Yellow Daisy

This is a photo of miniature red-pink diasy plants.

Up close, in a large bed of miniature red-pink daisy plants.

This is a photo of miniature lavender daisy plants.

Of the millions of daisy heads before me, these little ones are getting their 15 seconds of fame.

Do you have a favorite flower? If so, what is it and what makes it so special for you?

India – Leaving Behind the Sublime and the Squalid

in Life     
This is a photo taken on the top deck of the Taj Mahal. There is a large white marbel minaret on the right and people sitting in the shade against the marbel wall. The red sandstone fort is in the distance.

White marble minaret on the top deck of the Taj Mahal.

India has some of the strangest and most beautiful temples, palaces, forts and tombs we’ve had the pleasure of seeing.  Yet we note, that Indians only keep up, maintain, paint and revere ancient buildings from the dead past.  They have a different standard for buildings they live in.  Standards for building, zoning, upkeep and maintenance of new structures are much lower.

It really bothered us to drive for 6 hours in one day, and see nothing but unrelieved squalor, people colorfully dressed in saris, but walking through mounds of trash and garbage right outside their front doors or those of the shops.  We saw all the animals munching on garbage.  All the animals are treated like pigs, whether they are to be revered as gods and not eaten (cows, and pigs are not eaten), or chickens, goats, camels, dogs, sheep.  It turned my stomach and it’s hard now to look at meat without thinking of garbage.

And it doesn’t exactly put you in a festive mood to realize that one billion people here are living lives that don’t seem particularly worthwhile, suffering daily hunger, disease, lack of basic toilet/water/infrastructure, having to submit to daily corruption and hassles.  Is life worth living in India?

Our driver constantly talked about karma, and the need to give to the poor.  I started buying Indian products, but my suitcase broke.  Then, I lost the desire to shoot photos, or to buy anything at all, and resisted the urge to shop, because of constant pressure and hassling by guides, driver and touts.  After making our way across northern India, I started realizing how little I really need…

I didn’t need my shoes or slippers – but someone in India did, so I gave them away.

I didn’t need jewelry, so I gave that away.

I didn’t need all my clothing, so I gave away turtleneck, t-shirt, robe, plastic raincoats.

I didn’t need all my toiletries, so I gave many away.

I didn’t need the rest of the food and cutlery, so I gave those away too.

I put all the things into the broken suitcase and gave it to Raj, the driver, who promised that the poor family he knows in Delhi can fix the suitcase zipper and make use of the things.

What do I really need – nothing more than pure water, fresh air, basic clothing and medication, and delicious, nutritious food, a clean, safe roof over my head, and a great companion and family.

And so I came back from India lighter than before.

In India we heard an analogy by way of explanation of how Indians can live in such a pigsty without going crazy.  “Like the white pure lotus flower, they stand in fetid water and produce a beautiful flower all the same.”  The Hindu ideas underlying this statement are foreign to me.  I could not relate to the Indian tolerance for filth.

But we were able to appreciate the sublime monuments, ambrosially delicious food and the kindness of some of the Indians we met along the way.  Like Nagendra Singh explaining about tigers and cooking as if he had nothing better in the world to do than spend hours patiently answering my questions.

Like the flirty smiles of three 14-year old boys who waved kisses at us from their motorcycle…the chef at the Tiger Reserve winking as he prepared our demonstration meal, the solemn explanations of the Kashmiri rug merchants as we sat for hours in their shop talking as human beings and not as customer and merchant….

Cities and towns are teeming; Indians are rushing about; they’re honking (“Horn please,” implore signs on the back of the trucks”), they’re clamoring, they’re impatient to get ahead.  We found that to enjoy India, you have to get the Indians to…slow…down…look you in the eye, see you as a human being…and not as something to be milked or used. Then the gap is bridged.

The Hansen sisters had a total blast on our trip to India.   We constantly spoke about seeing the South of India, but unless it is cleaner than the North, it’s not on!

Claudia and Gail