Pam Baker's blog

Life in a Pop-up Story book

Submitted by Pam Baker on Tue, 2006-03-14 07:22.

As we are looking back on our months here, there was one day that sort of epitomized the way things go. This was actually back in January. The Health Attaché at the American Embassy had set up some appointments for us to meet with various people in Delhi. They scheduled two appointments in one day, the first at 10 in the morning, the second at 2 in the afternoon. Figuring that each appointment would be no more than an hour, this in the U.S. would seem like more than enough time to do both. Even though they were at two different institutions, both places were in the southern end of Delhi. But as the day transpired, it felt more and more like one of those children’s books, where you turn the page and a folded cutout pops up with a new picture.

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Our Television Debut (20 February 2006)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Thu, 2006-02-23 10:13.

Our Dean asked us to come for an interview with a film crew from one of the local TV stations. As it turned out, this station, like most stations, broadcasts primarily in Hindi. So most of the actual interview was in Hindi with the Dean. They then wanted some photos and an interview in English with us. So off we go to meet the Dean in the clinic for the photo op. We stopped dead upon realizing that what they meant was the Dean was treating a patient and the TV interviewer wanted us to pose as helping him work on the patient. Leaving aside all of our American HIPPA rules of patient privacy and confidentiality, none of which apply here, we were still horrified from an infection control point of view since we had no gloves, no masks, no protective eyewear. Reminded Pam of when she and Lee and 20 other microbiologists had been trooped into the Intensive Care Unit at Peking Union Medical Hospital in Beijing in 1996.

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High School Science (19 December 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Mon, 2005-12-19 11:55.

This morning I had a great opportunity to visit a high school here in Delhi. One of the teachers who had attended the Workshop that Dave and I did in November invited me to her school. It was another of the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) Schools, this one in a part of south Delhi called Sadiq Nagar. The KV schools are government run schools for the children of government civil service employees. The idea is to have a very common curriculum from one school to another so as the parent gets transferred around, the children have continuity in their schooling. The kids do also have to take an entrance exam to be accepted into a KV school. The kids I saw today were sure bright and highly motivated. The school goes from primary right through Class XII. I saw the Class XI group of about 35 kids for a biology class. Their teacher has a Ph.D. in genetics and was a lecturer at a University in Baroda for five years. Now she is teaching high school because her husband is in the army and teaching at KV schools gives her a job as they get moved around.

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Corruption is alive and well

Submitted by Pam Baker on Tue, 2005-12-13 11:51.

After alluding yesterday to one of the negative aspects of life here being corruption, the headline of this morning’s paper was “MPs on Sale for just Rs 10,000”. Over the last couple of months, investigative reporters from a television station had conducted a massive “sting”, the results of which they aired on TV last night. We don’t have a TV in our apartment, so we didn’t see the actual show, but the paper (Times of India) had quite thorough coverage. Posed as representatives of a group called the North Indian Small Manufacturers Association, the reporters went to various MPs (Members of Parliament, so comparable to our federal congress) and offered them money (10,000 to 50,000 rupees, or $220 to $1100) to bring up specific questions in Parliament. The Question Hour as it is called is a set time in the Parliamentary schedule in which MPs raise questions that must then be answered by the Minister named in the question. The MPs who took the money did not check whether the North Indian Small Manufacturers Assn was an actual group (it isn’t), and they didn’t quibble with questions that ranged from the trivial to special considerations for the welfare of small manufacturers (examples given were “Has the Ministry lifted the 1962 ban on the book For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway,” and “whether the government will permit the import of new technologies like Trackbacks, Pingbacks, Blogrolls, Splogs and Hitcounters”[Do these exist? I don’t know]).

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Amitabh Bachchan

Submitted by Pam Baker on Mon, 2005-12-12 09:53.

Amitabh Bachchan is in the hospital, and there is something about him in the paper nearly every day. He is a Bollywood actor. Bollywood is the movie-making center of India, Mumbai, which used to be called Bombay, hence the B in Bollywood. It also refers to a style of movie. All are in Hindi, although on the flight here we saw one (starring Amitabh) that had English subtitles. To my tastes these seem very emotive, even overwrought. The themes are almost all about arranged marriages, or some boy-girl problem or problem in an extended family. They usually involve highly stylized singing, and almost always dancing.

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Learning to let other people do things for us (part two) (Wednesday, 9 November 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Wed, 2005-11-09 11:50.

At our office at the Dental College, the same scene is repeated as at the house. The door opens and people appear and do things like wash the floors, fill our water thermos, bring tea. Where they come from, where they get the water or the tea, and where we find any of it ourselves are all Mysteries. So we just say “thank you” or “namaste” and go on. (They seem startled and flattered that we say anything at all).

We do most of our food shopping right in Bengali Market, in little shops that are semi-self service. Some things are out on the shelf, but many more are hidden away in nooks and crannies, so you tell one of the people what you want and they disappear into back rooms and overhead lofts and come back with whatever it was. Then another person jots up how much it costs, and still another person takes your money. Since they see us every day, they have concluded we live nearby, so now, unless we insist otherwise, they take the bags of food right to our door. Two cases of bottled water were stacked on the back of a bicycle and brought to our house this morning. Dave’s pressed sports coat was carried on a hangar to the house from the dry cleaner. No tips are expected for any of this. The landlady and others tell us, “just call up and tell them what you want and they will bring it, and then you don’t have to go to the store.” Trouble is, we don’t know what we want, and we like seeing the people and the show at the store.

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Who’s on first? (Monday, 7 November 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Wed, 2005-11-09 11:48.

We are moved in, and the holidays are mostly over, and so on Monday we went to the Dental College. Dr. Verma put us in the hands of Dr. Meera Chowdhury, Associate Professor of Paediatric Dentistry, a wonderfully gentle woman with a great sense of humor. Dave was able to start teasing her immediately.

We were shown into our office, a nice space on the second floor. We have a big desk, two plants, fresh gladiolas, four chairs, a sofa, a big thermos for drinking water, plates, coasters, and six glasses that look like dandy scotch glasses but are really so we can serve our guests water. (They apologized that the set-up for making tea wasn’t all there quite yet). We have office supplies, and a phone that calls other offices in the building but isn’t hooked up yet (will be in a few days). We are right next door to the dental school library and there is a computer there, and there will be internet connection on that soon. The whole building is designed to be a wireless network, but that won’t be up for a while. They have only been in the building themselves for four months, and the priority was definitely on getting the clinics up and running. Beautiful Adec equipment, made in Oregon.

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Learning to let other people do things for us (Sunday, 6 November 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Wed, 2005-11-09 11:46.

This apartment is 74 feet from front to back, and 20 feet across(1480 square feet, which is about 80% the size of our house in Maine)!! The kitchen floor and the floor in one of the two bathrooms are tiled, and all the rest of the floors are marble. In the front room, the living room, there is a big rug over the marble. Our landlady, who lives downstairs, asked if we wanted her “girls” to clean for us. It was more of an expectation than a question and we were happy to say “sure”. So two women show up every day, including weekends. One, who is about 4 feet tall and who has worked for the landlady for over forty years, washes the entire floor by hand with a 2 by 3 foot wet rag and sweeps the living room rug with a bundle of sticks. She wears a sari while doing this and somehow doesn’t get it wrapped up in the washrag. The other, a young girl who wears a salwar kameez, dusts all of the furniture and cleans the bathrooms. Neither speaks any English, but the older one smiles a lot and chatters away to us in some extremely rapid language. So we smile and chatter back.

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Divali (1 November 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Wed, 2005-11-02 09:56.

Today is Divali. People visit family and friends and bring them gifts. We had invitations to people’s houses, but knowing how many dozens of people would be in and out of anyone’s home in the course of the day, we decided that no one needed to have the extra burden of us, and we elected to stay here at the Guest House. We went out for a walk, and while many things are closed, many shops are open. The hair stylist and the Chemist (Pharmacy) in particular looked to be doing a brisk business, as were the countless stalls selling the wrapped boxes of dried fruit and candies that people will take to “gift” each other at these parties. Meanwhile, across the street at the mosque, the courtyard wall is receiving a fresh coat of paint, white for the wall, and turquoise for the crenellations at the top.

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The Dean Verma Whirlwind (31 October 2005)

Submitted by Pam Baker on Wed, 2005-11-02 09:55.

This morning we went over to the Dental College and were immediately sucked up into the Dean Verma Whirlwind. We thought we were going to go see a possible apartment to rent, but before we got to that, he had scheduled a meeting to introduce us to their faculty, a wonderful group whom we look forward to working with. Tomorrow is Divali, which is a Hindu religious holiday, but now also a pan-Indian secular festival. And so we next watched while the staff came into the Dean’s office, one at a time, and received their gifts, most of them bending and touching his feet in a sign of respect. Then we put in an appearance at the parties happening in each of the departments, and then off to East Delhi. Maulana Azad Dental College is a government institution, so the Dean is a high government official and has a white Ambassador car and a driver. Dean Maheash Verma’s wife, Meena, is a general practice dentist with very modern offices across the Yamuna River from Delhi. There a Hindu priest performed a puja (blessing ceremony) for the staff. Seated on the floor in the waiting room, there was a long series of chants and building up of a pile of offerings to Lakshmi (goddess of money, prosperity and good fortune) and Ganesh (the elephant god). A fire was built in a metal brazier about the size of a wastebasket, and everyone added offerings to the flames. After lunch (and by this time we were absolutely stuffed), we roared back into Delhi to the Bengali Market area, to, at last, see the apartment. Dean Verma had found this place by knowing the people next door to another place (long story). After more eating and drinking at his friends’ house (a general practice dentist and her husband, an orthodontist), we went to look at the apartment which was on the third floor and literally inches from the expressway over pass, so we said no thank you. But it developed that the property manager actually also had another place that turned out to be great and we said yes. We will move in right after the holiday, on Thursday. After sealing the deal with a handshake, the Dean dropped us off at USEFI so we could go to another party there, while he went on to an entire evening of parties. For him these almost all-night Divali parties have been going on since last Thursday, but we couldn’t detect any loss of energy on his part. He is sure taking good care of us!

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