Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Landslides and the Monsoon

Workers inspect the damage after the landslide outside our house
Slip land-sliding away!

So we arrived back in Mussoorie a week ago (gosh I'm becoming Americanised by Woodstock starting sentences with so!). It is Monsoon season for the next couple of months, which effectively means we are living in a cloud, and it rains incessantly. Apparently though this is a very light Monsoon compared to previous years, and we have had some clear periods and even some sun. But it is still very damp, difficult to dry clothes, and miserable for sun worshippers (such as my wife). It also means there are more spiders, scorpions and leeches sharing our humble abode.

Talking of our house, the other night at about 5am we were awoken by a huge rumbling which seemed very close to our home. We thought it was strange but were too tired to go and investigate, so turned over and went back to sleep. The next morning we got up and found a group of men in our garden area (I use the term garden loosely). I groaned and went outside to complain, fearing more disturbances from builders who had plagued our lives last semester. I was politely requested to look at a large landslide which had occured, stopping just metres from our house. That shut me up pretty sharpish!

Last term a huge amount of earth was dumped in our garden to fill a hole, this was then saturated with the Monsoon rain. This earth was pushing against a holding wall which could not take the weight...hence the landslide. The good news is that noone was hurt, and our house has strong foundations and should be fine (famous last words). But as the photo below shows, it was a bit close for comfort!

The view from our window!

Not pret-a-porter

You know you are back in India when red-uniformed porters try and carry your luggage at railway stations. These guys have an irritating tendency to board a train just as it arrives at your destination thereby precluding all passengers from alighting. They then try and grab your suitcase and carry it for a fee. Getting on or off a train is already tricky as often the whole extended family of Indian passengers board a train to say goodbye, clogging up the corridor, even though they are not travelling. These porters do offer a useful service but will often try and charge foreigners an inflated fee. On this occasion I gave them a firm "nehi donyevard" ("no thanks") as we did not require their services, although my conscience was piqued when one of them opined: "If you people do not use us how will we survive?"

Indian bookworm

I am enjoying reading Indian novels and books on the country while being here. Anything by William Dalrymple is great, currently I am reading Kirsten The Age of Kali which is very informative. We were interested to read that the city of Lucknow used to be one of the cultural centres of India, but sadly has been in decline over the last 50 years. Some of the religious violence which has taken place in recent years is also shocking to read about.

I enjoyed White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and I'm loving A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Set in 1970s Mumbai during the Emergency period, when the Government ruled by decree, it paints an illuminating portrait of India as the four characters from different backgrounds struggle to survive in a modernising India. The book captures the ghastly injustice and violence of the caste system, the grim reality of life in a slum, and the values and priorities of Indian families. It is still remarkably pertinent to Indian life today, and I would heartily recommend it.

I also read One Hundred Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseni, the follow up to the Kite Runner, but that is set in Afghanistan. It's a great, but somewhat depressing, read.

Power problems

Some of you have asked if we have been affected by the recent power cuts affecting most of northern India. Fortunately Woodstock has generators so we have not been had any blackouts, but the nearby town of Mussoorie has been. My brother-in-law pointed out that while many well-off Delhi dwellers were complaining their air conditioning was not working, hundreds of millions of Indians still do not have access to electricity. Makes you realise how lucky we are.

Highway On My Plate

Last term as part of my job I helped facilitate* the visit of a film crew from popular Indian food show Highway On My Plate to the school. You can watch the 20-minute programme online, it gives a great snapshot of Woodstock life and the beautiful campus, and if you watch carefully, you may spot me lurking in the background!

*I use this term ironically. Obviously in my job I also stovepipe out our key messages to our relevant stakeholders etc etc...


barbara said...

Have you read any of Rumer Godden's writing? Her memoirs are especially evocative - she was brought up in India and lived there as an adult also.

barbara said...

p.s. quite impressive that landslide, you seem to have stayed very calm.....many many many years ago when I spent a year at Woodstock there was never any salt on the dining room tables as we had all snitched it to treat any unwelcome leeches who may have hitched a ride between residence and school....

Lawrence of Ind-id-ia said...

Hi Barbara,

I've not read any of her work so I'll have to check her out. I've been told by my wife to carry salt in case of leeches! Thanks for your feedback. Ed