Friday Feature: Faces of India

Where: Industrial Design Centre (IDC), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay)
What: IDC is considered to be the best design centre in India for programs in several disciplines of industrial design. As we walked around, we noticed that the students painted the door to their lab, giving it their own signature touch. The building itself was a cheery departure from the staid and the standard. Dappled sunshine bathes the building through one of my favorite trees—which my friend Anita will identify very shortly. Until she wakes up, take a look at some of the Doors of IDC and my favorite tree!

Feeding those Cravings

The Vietnamese really know how to do it right. For me, that is. My throat would be parched from the incessant humid heat and they would welcome me with a mild jasmine iced tea, always on the house.

Iced tea on arrival

Rejuvenated, I could then focus on the task at hand: ordering a steaming hot meal! In this case, Mì Quảng, a noodle soup from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. According to our driver and guide, it is like Pho but with a lot less water.

Mì Quảng

Sunday Snapshots: Setting off to Sea

We spent a couple of days in a small town by the beach in Ninh Thaun Province of Vietnam called Phan Rang, as the second ceremony for our friend's wedding was to be held here. Phan Rang is often described by tourists as "nothing to do, nothing to see." That, by itself, made it very attractive to us. No crowds, lots of relaxation and plenty of quality time together. We did face a language issue but it wasn't anything that a Vietnamese-English dictionary did not help resolve. Phan Rang has a twin city called Thap Cham, which is slightly bigger but since we are averse to cities, we stayed put at Phan Rang even though the beach was murky and the sea was a tad too rough. Until we discovered that the time to go into the sea was just before dawn. The otherwise-deserted beach came alive with local swimmers and fisherfolk.

Time to let go

I go through this every December. And then again, the day after New Year's Day. Rage grips me and oozes out of my pores until I rationalize, calm myself down, revert to a baseline of choosing to remember only the meaningful...and all is well in my little world again.

Soon after she died, we were informed that she had died at an inopportune time. Yes, according to the panchang, her exact time of death was inauspicious. I remember the scene vividly. My uncle, downcast and apologetic, as he stood there in our living room—my mother's living room. My sister exploded as she was wont to; whereas I stared at him, hurt and bewildered. Who chooses their time of death? Hadn't she suffered enough? That, even in death, you want her to suffer more, I accused him and his generation of believers. It was a while before he was able to get through to us. It wasn't about her anymore, he implored, it was about us.

Sunday Snapshots: Reluctant Elephant Ride

There we were, being led into the classic tourist trap: an elephant ride. We had successfully avoided it last year in Jaipur, India and each one of us was very clear that we did not want to be party to ill-treating of this gentle giant. We told Mr. Bay (Bah-ee), our driver and guide, that we would ride only if we got good vibes. My thoughts were: Why? Why ride at all? But there was no clear answer. We ride horses and camels, attach bulls and cows to carts; so how was riding an elephant any different? I'm not sure. It just didn't feel right.

We drove along Tuyen Lam Lake in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to a nature sanctuary and then walked about a quarter mile into the sanctuary to an idyllic spot by the lake. Huts with thatched roofs, a large wooden deck on the lake, and an elephant. It was not chained, the first good vibe. We spent a lot of time with the elephant, feeding it, talking to it, marveling at it. I think we deluded ourselves that we were getting to know it. My question, however, remained.

Medha was the first to give the go-ahead just as she had been the first to raise the red flag in Jaipur. This child has great instincts when it comes to animals—something I lack—so I gave in. Mr. Bay rushed to get the mahout; if he could have skipped and done a cartwheel along the way, he probably would have. What I saw next touched me immensely.

Mahout and elephant, conversing