On the quest for Dussehra Demons

Last week I joined a walking tour to see the massive effigies under construction for today’s Dussehra celebrations. However, I just realized I’ve never blogged about Dussehra! So, first things first.

The Hindu religious epic Ramayana depicts the life of Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, who ultimately defeats the evil Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, after a 10-day battle. Dussehra is the day to celebrate that victory.

This short video by WildFilmsIndia summarizes the epic and its relevance in India today.

All over India, village actors re-create the life of Ram in performances called Ramlila. The show culminates in an explosive spectacle when Ram’s fiery arrow ignites the towering effigies of Ravana and his son and brother. Fireworks built into the monumental bamboo frames blast from the bodies, spiraling and whistling, showering sparks and ash over the cheering audience.

Somebody has to build those effigies. But where? And how? Surekha of Delhi Metro Walks was ready to answer our questions. We met at the Patel Chowk metro station and had to change trains at Rajiv Chowk. That’s where we encountered a mob apparently attacking the glass police booth. (See the article below.) Delayed and blocked from getting to our train, we instead hopped aboard a train going the other direction, got off after one stop and switched to the other side to get going the right way.

When we finally stepped off the metro at Tagore Garden, we looked down from the platform to see the street lined with dismembered effigies.

Unfortunately, thanks to the metro mob, we arrived just before sunset. We hurriedly dashed up one side of the street, watching men stick foil designs on what looked like massive torsos, and then crossed the street to snap photos of the giant heads. In the dwindling light, we watched workers dab paint on the faces, glue paper on bamboo frames, and load the body parts onto trucks and tuk-tuks.











Check out my flickr album to see more photos.

Click on D’source to learn the steps in making a Ramlila effigy.

Here’s an article from the Hindustan Times about the brouhaha we encountered at the metro stop.

fruit salad for the soul

I wrote this on Sept. 6, but in my sleep-deprived haze, I obviously forgot to publish it. So here it is… update to follow soon.

After one month back in Delhi, Tony and I both feel wrecked.

Our two cats, Khushi and Ella have spent many holidays without us, lovingly accompanied by our housekeeper Raji. However, something went wrong over the summer. We may never know what it was, but we returned to find Khushi nearly emaciated, bristling with anxiety and incontinent.

Ella seemed unscathed, other than apparent confusion over her sister’s sudden personality change, and is still as playful and affectionate as ever.

Poor Raji swears nothing bad happened to Khushi. She says the cat just started crying a lot and peeing outside the litterbox shortly after we left for the States. In typical Indian fashion, she didn’t want to upset us by emailing the details. Instead, I got an automated email from the vet: “Dear Khushi, Thank you for your visit!” When I wrote to Raji back in July, she admitted taking Khushi to the vet but assured me all was well. It wasn’t.

In addition to the manic schedule as we geared up for the start of school (administering language assessments to applicants, helping new teachers learn the ropes, unpacking my stuff after moving classrooms, preparing for our EAL consultant’s visit, etc.), we took Khushi to the vet every evening for an antibiotic injection and a sedative. The drug wore off within a couple hours, so we took turns staying with her in the locked guest room all night, where she howled and prowled and otherwise didn’t sleep. The noise, the worry, the stress over where she would pee next kept us awake night after night.

We tried a different vet, who explained the possibility that a botched sterilization could lead to similar symptoms. If any bits of her reproductive system had been left inside when she was spayed, she could still be going into heat. We watched to see whether her behavior was cyclical. And we continued to spend our nights awake and stressed out.

For a few days, it seemed Khushi was getting better, and then she peed on Tony’s briefcase.

We called yet another vet. This one made house calls. He came over last Sunday night and gently examined Khushi. He suggested we try some anti-anxiety drugs. In the States, a month’s worth of Alprazolam costs about $100. In Delhi, we got 20 pills for 50 rupees, which is 83 cents. They only come in people form here, so I have to cut one pill into eighths, so that 83 cents bought us 160 days of treatment! On the other hand, I ordered Feliway (“a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure – the secret to happy cats!”) from amazon, and my mom sent it by UPS at the cost of $145, so I guess it all balances out. At this point, we’ll pay anything for some sleep.

Khushi, waking up from a nap. Must be nice.

I’m on the brink of tears at any given moment, and Tony paces around the house, wide-eyed and snappy. That’s why, this morning, too exhausted to contemplate making breakfast, I almost crumpled to the floor with happiness to find this.

Raji had left a weekend’s worth of cut-up fruit: papaya, mango, apples, pears, pomegranate and oranges, plus a banana on the side. I hardly put forth any effort, short of opening the yogurt and brewing a pot of coffee. It was fruit salad for the soul.

Stay tuned. We hope to have news of a back-to-normal cat in the coming weeks.

Summer Flashback: Oakland County Fair

For a real taste of Americana, there’s nothing better than a county fair. Even those of us who didn’t grow up raising crops or cattle can appreciate the hard work and commitment. The Oakland County Fair is just the right size for a daylong visit: 4-H crafts, bottomless cup of chocolate milk for 50 cents, livestock barns, dog show, midway games, children’s activities, farm equipment on display, pig races, petting zoo, bumper cars and greasy food.

One of our favorite attractions is the Miracle of Life Barn full of animals and their new babies. We saw two huge sows with squealing piglets, as well as baby goats, sheep, cows, and rabbits. However, the greatest attraction for Nico was the incubator full of hatching eggs. After missing one egg hatch (while we wandered away to see the piglets), he was determined to witness the next one. Eventually, the rest of the family scooted off to get lunch, but Nico didn’t want to leave. I sat with him as he stared at the egg. It rocked and wiggled and then went still as the chick inside took a break from its exhausting journey. We waited as other groups stopped by and moved on. Nico told them all, “It should just be a few more minutes,” but only he had the patience to wait. Finally, after 30 minutes, a little beak poked through the shell, pushing and jiggling until the egg split in half and the tiny wet chick flopped out. Amazing.



Playing on the tractors.


Rides and games.








Fair fun.





Summer Flashback: Flare Night and 4th of July

Flare Night at Lake Orion was quieter than usual for me this year as most of the family opted out. Tony had gone to Kansas to see his family, so Kate and her boys spent the night. We set up the road flares (without any family men to help!) and waited till 10 p.m. to light them, when the whole perimeter of the lake glowed red.





The Fourth of July was also a little different. Usually we all traipse over to the neighbor’s yard for a clear view of the fireworks, but this year the location changed and we could see most of them from our deck. Fortunately, the painters finished the exterior work in time. The whole gang came over (including our adopted siblings Mike and Chris Gray). John looped twinkly lights along the porch railing and hung my red, white and blue lanterns from India. So festive!










Summer Flashback: John scores an MBA!

My brother-in-law John has something he hasn’t had in a long time: free Thursday nights! After attending night classes at University of Phoenix for the last couple years, he graduated this summer with a Master’s in Business Administration. The graduation ceremony took place June 21 at Ford Field in Detroit, and John may have had the most fans in the audience. My whole family attended, along with John’s parents and many other family members. We all enjoyed a delicious lunch in Detroit’s Mexican Town afterwards.

We’re all so proud of John!









Caught him on the big screen.




Summer Flashback: Kids and kayaks

A typical summer day at the lake involves pitching the little tent for shade, kayaking around the island and through the willow tree “jungle,” possibly unmooring the paddle boat for a short outing, filling the baby pool with a few inches of fresh water, loading up the picnic table with snacks and drinks, feeding the ducks, playing with the fishing pole (with a glow stick instead of a hook), swimming and splashing and otherwise scaring the fish.

We always spend at least one day raking out sea grass. Nobody wants that stuff grabbing your toes or wrapping around your thigh while you swim. It’s enough to give you nightmares!



We had LOTS of ducklings hanging around the lake this summer. Our favorite duck, Sheila, made a nest in our front yard for the second year in a row, but we were sad to hear all her eggs were broken – presumably by a neighborhood cat. Here, Paul kayaks with a mommy duck and her three babies.

Paul Chasing Ducks from Sharon Dent on Vimeo.


The kayaks were a huge hit. Kate bought two children’s kayaks, but Nico easily managed the adult kayak. Even little Paul paddled around the whole island by himself for the first time. After watching a neighbor pull a huge snapping turtle out of the lake, he far preferred kayaking over swimming!

All five nephews got together at the lake this year. Can we make that an annual event? Mike, Summer and Max visited from London, and Britt, Megan and Will popped by Michigan during their move from Korea to Texas.










All the men on the dock.

Summer Flashback: Jack turns 1!

A few friends and family members gathered at Kate’s house July 7 to celebrate the first birthday of my littlest Jimenez nephew – Jack.


His brothers, cousins and neighborhood friends decorated cupcakes. Big brother Paul created a cupcake mutant, while cousin Emma went with a more conventional creation.




Jack didn’t give us the messy frosting explosion we have come to expect at first birthdays. In fact, he barely acknowledged his cute gluten-free cupcake.





Instead, we got our messy explosion every time Jack ate watermelon this summer as evidenced here (a couple weeks before his birthday).

Watermelon Jack from Sharon Dent on Vimeo.

In Kate’s family, little boys get their first haircut when they turn one, so it was Jack’s turn! It also provided an opportunity for him to have his first lollipop. The rainbow-haired young beautician was patient and sweet with our little lovebug.


Such a handsome big boy!

Summer Flashback: NYDJ Jeans

Shopping for jeans is a perennially painful experience.

No point in trying to find jeans here in India, where ladies seem to fall into two style camps: traditional or trendy. For traditional ladies, a “suit” is a typical daily outfit. It consists of loose-fitting bottoms that gather at the ankles and a long tunic-style top with a scarf draped conservatively across the chest. It looks lovely on Indian women, but not on this pear-shaped girl. Trendy locals? They wear western designer styles that are generally too expensive for me.

So, I tend to wait for summer to search for wardrobe staples. This summer, I needed some jeans.

I browsed half-heartedly through the racks and hopelessly tried on jeans everywhere I went this summer. Finally, we visited Nordstrom, where I discovered the NYDJ brand. It sounded so funky and hip. New York DJ? Yeah! I’m not too old to visit a New York dance club in my hot new jeans, right? They fit me perfectly, hugging my small waist but leaving ample space for my out-of-proportion thighs. They actually made my butt look perky and round. And they came in a variety of styles and colors! I wanted them all!

On a retail high, I engaged the help of a young saleswoman, who sported a pleated miniskirt, two long braids and glasses with oversized dark frames. She flitted back and forth to the dressing room, bringing me every iteration of NYDJ jeans. Quickly I discovered my usual size was too big, adding to my excitement about this amazing brand. Really? I could wear a 4! I felt so petite and sexy.

“Ohhhh … yeah, lots of women find they have to drop a size,” said my little helper friend. “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans run a bit big.”

Ummm… hold on. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans? That was not petite and sexy. That was not I’m-still-hot-after-all-these-years clubbing in New York. That was tricky and malicious. That was dumpy, middle-aged soccer mom. That was desperate denial.

I paused to look at the tag. “NYDJ – With Lift and Tuck Technology!” it said. I turned around to check out my butt in the mirror. It DID look lifted. My gut also appeared flatter, tucked as it was. I took a deep breath and let reality wash over me.

I decided that if I had a daughter, her jeans would be too big and frumpy for me. I would have to find some cuter, more flattering jeans, and thus, this brand would be perfect. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. That’s right! These jeans were way more sexy than my hypothetical daughter’s jeans! And so I bought them all.

Adventures in Teaching and Travel