Thursday, November 26, 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Baz Luhrmann, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
The lyrics are taken from an essay written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I wish I could write poems. If I did, they would be pretty much in the same tone as the ones here:

Halina PoĊ›wiatowska - Indeed I Love...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holy Cow

According to Indian scriptures a cow is a gift of the gods to the human race. As the cow provides milk, it is equated to one's mother. Traditionally, cows were present in every Indian household and they were considered to be a part of the family. It seems that even today cows still have a special place in Indian culture. I do not think there was a single day that I would not see a cow walking freely and enjoying its life, no matter if I was traveling in rural parts of the country or if I was in Hyderabad (which is a big city with more than 4 million inhabitants).

In villages majority of cows had painted horns. Apparently it is supposed to ward off evil spirits, but these days it might also be used as a way of showing ownership.

A common sight in the villages: a cart pulled by cows with painted horns: 

Nobody pays any attention to cows passing by:

Holy cow in the center of Hyderabad:

Happy life:

India is Great. Blow horn.

No comment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hyderabad - Golconda Fort (and a story of unjustified violence)

Day after Anil and I came back from our trip to Ellora and Ajanta, Anil's father got seriously sick and had to be admitted into the hospital. It was a very traumatic event for all of us that changed a lot my perception of India, Anil's family and my relationship with Anil. Clearly, it was even more difficult situation for Anil and I am sure it had changed many things for him too. Anyway, I do not want to go into any details about it right now. The bottom line is: we were all under a lot of stress, the father was seriously sick, but the hospital was dealing well with it and he was to be released the next day.

The first day that Anil's father was in the hospital I stayed at home with Anil's mother, an event which deserves detailed description in a dedicated post. On the second day I went sightseeing Golconda Fort and shopping (I am not heartless: we knew that the father will be coming back home that day and I also thought that it would be better for my and Anil's mother mental health that I leave the house for a few hours.)

Anil had arranged a car with a driver for me for that day and exchanged cell phone numbers with him so that at any time he could make sure that I was okay. Anil and his mother also insisted to write down the driver's name and car's registration plates, even though he was recommended by their family driver and lived and worked nearby. I definitely thought it was not necessary and felt embarrassed by the whole procedure.

Anyway, the driver arrived before the scheduled time (extremely unusual in India) and appeared to be very nice and friendly. Unfortunately, the two of us could not communicate well as he did not speak English and I could only say several words in Telugu (so much for Arjumand assuring me that everybody speaks English in Hyderabad and that even she does not speak Telugu...)

As soon as we left the house we had an accident. I did not see how it happened, but I was sure it was our fault. We were coming to an intersection where there were several motorbikes waiting to turn right and my driver must have started slowing down too late as he made one of the motorbikes fall down (and like in a domino, that motorbike cause yet another one to fall down too). Luckily neither the bikers nor their motorbikes seemed to be even scratched. Still, they approached our car and asked the driver to pull down the window. As soon as the driver did that, they grabbed his shirt and started hitting him on the face with all the force they could find in their fists. I was totally shocked by that and it took me a long time to register what was actually happening and decide what I should do.

Before I took any action, a policeman appeared and separated the motorcyclists from my driver. We were all asked to pull over to the side and my driver disappeared for several minutes. I was very worried about him, but I knew there was nothing I could do to help and that he needed to sort the situation out himself. I also thought that if he would need help, he could always call Anil, who would be of much more help than I. When the driver came back he tried to explain the situation to me (in Telugu, of course) and he seemed to be very happy. I was not happy and I was thinking that maybe he should not be driving the car as he surely must be in shock. The thought of calling Anil and asking him to make the driver bring me back home passed through my mind, but then I knew that he must be preoccupied with more important things right then, so I decided not to bother him and let fate decide if I was going to survive that day with the crazy driver or not.

The driver continued to be happy and talkative throughout the day, while I was pondering what (tf) is wrong with India that strangers start beating other strangers even before listening to their apologies/arguments.

Later that day when we came back home I asked Anil to make sure that the driver was fine and that he did not get into the trouble with the police. Anil talked with him and told me that apparently the policeman put the two other guys that were beating my driver into a jail for a night. I am not sure if I believe that story, but I was happy that at least my driver was let go free and without any fine.

When we arrived at Golconda Fort, which is located on a hill several kilometers outside Hyderabad, the driver continued to try to communicate with me and from his gestures I understood that he wanted to accompany me on the visit to the fort. In principle I did not mind it. I was happy to pay for his ticket and I felt better knowing that he would do something more interesting than waiting near the car for me to come back. However, he was going EVERYWHERE where I was going and stopping precisely where I was stopping, which made me feel uncomfortable. Since I could not communicate with him, I felt bad that he always needed to wait for me, so I was not enjoying my trip too much and I definitely sped it up, so that he did not get bored.

Golconda used to be a capital and fortress city of the Qutb Shahi kingdom, before the capital was moved to Hyderabad. The city was home to one of the most powerful Muslim sultanates in the region and was the center of a flourishing diamond trade.

One of the most fascinating features of the fort is its acoustical system. Apparently, if you clap your hands at the fort's main gate, it will be heard as far away as the top of the citadel. Today this feature is used to entertain tourists in a daily "light and sound" performance.

Golconda Fort and views from it to Hyderabad:

Streets of Hyderabad

Inevitably if you travel in India you will spend a lot of time stuck in the traffic. It is not a bad thing if you are a tourist, as you get to observe the life happening around you.

As India used to be a British colony, the traffic moves on the left side of the road. Roads are in a pretty good condition (much better than in Kenya or Uganda) and traffic seems to stick to the side of the road on which it should be. Way more civilized than I expected it to be. Well, maybe except for honking. It seems that driving in India is all about honking. You honk your horn to signalize your existence and to inform others that you are determined to go where you plan to go and nothing will prevent you from achieving your goal (I've just found this nice explanation by an Indian guy about different types of honking. Thank you google.)

Now if you take into account how many people live in the big cities and how many cars there are on the streets, you can imagine that streets are extremely noisy. And polluted.

Other thing you need to know about driving in India is that to survive you need to be aggressive. There are many intersections without any lights on them and to be able to cross them, you need to force your way through. The same is true for any right-hand turn you want to take.

Also, cities are not friendly for pedestrians. There are virtually no sidewalks and in few places that they do exist, they are so narrow that not even two people would be able to walk on them next to each other. It is also very difficult for not motorized traffic to cross the street. Needless to say, there are no zebra crossings... I found it also extremely amusing that the existing sidewalks are elevated from the ground by around 50-60 cm... You can imagine the reason for that.

All that said, I still think that if I had to, I would be able to drive in India. But it would definitely cost me a lot of stress and many years of my life...

Cars, rickshas, and motorbikes coexist (more or less peacefully) on the roads:

How many people can you fit on one motorbike? (Also, notice the lack of helmets and the way women sit on the motorbikes):

An unusual sight, a woman driving a motorcycle:

The world seen from a ricksha:

In some rickshas there were 10-15 people!

Ganesha, remover of the obstacles, was making sure that our car passes through the streets safely:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Slums Next Door

I hardly saw any slums in India. I do not know what that means. It might be that there aren't that many of them in Hyderabad, or that they are located in the parts of the city that I did not visit. Occasionally we would see a single "house" or even a row of them, here and there, mostly along the bigger roads close to the city center. There was also one such "house" on the empty land plot nearby Anil's parents' house. I was told that not all neighbors were happy about that poorer family living there and were surprised that Anil's parents would not ask them to leave.

On the last day of my stay in India it was raining heavily, and it seems that such weather is considered to be a perfect one to do laundry if you do not have running water at home:

I Can Be a Tourist Attraction too!

Of course I was attracting some attention, mostly when traveling in the rural areas. But I was really amazed that people were taking photos of me! Not that many Indians own cameras, so most of them were using their mobile phones to take a photo and they were doing it semi-secretly. But in Hampi there were many groups of Indian tourists that had "real" cameras and they were also openly asking if they can take photos of us (Nancy, Naomi and me) either by ourselves or even posing for pictures with them, like on the photo below:

I did not mind being photographed at all. I thought it was fair that they were taking photos of us, as we were taking so many photos of them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hyderabad - Laad Bazaar

On the second day of my stay in Hyderabad I asked Anil to go with me to Charminar and Laad Bazaar.

Laad Bazaar is a very old market (dating to 16th century) popular for bangles, semi-precious stones, saris and other Indian clothes. I bought a lot of clothes there (see the photo below) but, unfortunately, no bangles. I have to admit that buying at bazaars is a lot of. I like the process of negotiating the price and it is also much better to know that all the profit from the sale will go to the hands of people that made the product you are buying.

As we were at Laad Bazaar during the second half of Ramazan (Ramadan) that traditionally is the time when people shop a lot for clothes and gifts (*), there were even more shops and more people on the streets than normally. There were actually so many people that it was very difficult to move around and we had to stop all the time to let the people walking in the opposite direction pass. I was doing fine with the crowds and I do not even think that I was attracting too much attention, but Anil seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the experience.

(*) The end of Ramadan is marked by the Eid ul-Fitr celebration (the Festival of Breaking the Fast) during which everyone puts on their best, usually new, clothes and feasts on the streets with relatives and friends. I missed Eid celebration even though I was then in Hyderabad as Anil's father was sick and none of us was in celebrative mood.

Trying to make our way to Charminar through the crowds:

From the top of Charminar you can fully appreciate how many shops and how many people there are on the streets surrounding it:

Bangles stand:

Deliciously-looking watermelons:


I was puzzled by the fact that the market was mostly filled with Muslim women wearing black traditional clothes. I could not understand why would they shop for colorful clothes until I saw this (let's call it a rim of truth):

Interestingly, almost all (or all?) sellers were men, even at this bra stand:

Within couple of hours at the market I managed to buy all those clothes:

Hyderabad - Charminar

Charminar, a Mosque of the Four Minarets, was built in 1591 by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, shortly after he had moved his capital from Golconda to Hyderabad. Apparently, he vowed to built a masjid (mosque) if a plague that was ravaging his city was eliminated.

Charminar lies in the center of Old Town and is surrounded by several markets with thousands of shops each. The most famous one of them is called Laad Baazar. I dedicated a separate post to it.

For a small fee (foreigners - 100 rupees/2$; Indians - 10 rupees) one can enter the masjid and through the winding steps in one of its minarets reach the top floor, from where there are great views of the surrounding Old City.

Charminar and its four minarets:

Inside Charminar:

A hospital and one of the street markets:

Mecca Masjid: