Tag Archives: AES

Horsing around on high school mini-course

Since moving to India, Tony has accompanied high school students on a mini-course called Marwari Safari at a horse ranch in Rajasthan once a year. Although all AES high school students and teachers embark on mini-courses around the country each spring, he always claimed his mini-course was the best. Students got away from the big cities, didn’t have to travel from place to place, learned how to ride horses, enjoyed a little down time every day, and ate delicious food, mostly straight from the garden. For the last four years, I wished I could go, too. This year, I did!

On Thursday, I received a call from the high school assistant principal, saying Tony’s co-chaperone was too sick to travel. Would I be willing to sub? I had a little panic attack. It meant missing a week of school and parent conferences, and this is my busiest time of year as Elementary School EAL coordinator. “Maybe this is just what you need,” she said. Turns out, that was true.

We left just three days later (March 13) on the overnight train: Inder Jit, our tour organizer and riding instructor; his assistant, Bijay; 14 high school students; Tony and me.

After 12.5 hours on the train, we arrived in Udaipur and went straight to a boutique hotel for breakfast in the garden. Afterwards, we toured the City Palace and the Sahelion Ki Bari gardens. I had visited the palace in 2014, but our local guide on this visit had a great sense of humor and pointed out details I hadn’t seen the first time. Many of the students were surprisingly attentive and curious, despite sleep deprivation.

At the palace.



At the gardens.


Following our tour, the bus carried us another 20 minutes to Krishna Ranch, our home for four days. We were greeted by ranch owners Dinesh Jain and his wife, Francine, passionate promoters of the Marwari horses and lovely people overall.

Marwari Horses
For a short time, I took riding lessons in Delhi with mostly sluggish horses that slowly and methodically walked the perimeter of the ring. At Krishna Ranch, we rode Marwari horses, which required a whole different approach to riding. Frisky and keenly alert, they were bred for speed and endurance in warfare.

The Marwari horses originated when native Indian ponies were crossed with Arabian horses. The traditional rulers of the Marwar region (in northwestern India) first started breeding Marwari horses in the 12th century. The horses come in a full range of colors and patterns, but their distinctive ears set them apart from other breeds. The ears stand up and curve inward, creating a whimsical and endearing appearance.

I love this description from the Indigenous Horse Society of India:

The head conveys the indefinable oriental presence of the horse and should be expressive with a high forehead, large sparkling prominent eyes, straight or slightly Roman long face giving a clean chiseled profile and well rounded defined jaws, the nostrils are large and gently flared set over firm fine lips and an even bite. The ears should be of medium length and shapely, curving and curling inwards at their points in a scimitar or lyre shape typical to the breed. They will be somewhat longer in the mare.

Narani, the cook at Krishna Ranch, shares everyone’s passion for these beautiful horses.

At Krishna Ranch, some light-colored horses had decorative henna socks painted on their lower legs and their Hindi names henna-ed on their flanks.

This is Komal. Well, this is Komal’s backside.

Dinesh and Francine own 14 Marwari horses, and they borrowed a few more for our group. They also breed and sell horses, cautiously entertaining offers from India’s growing upper class. However, Dinesh has been known to buy back a mistreated horse or refuse to make the sale if he feels the prospective owner can’t provide appropriate care. His genuine love and concern for the horses makes this place even more special.

One morning, he saw me peeking over a stall door to check out the youngest resident of Krishna Ranch, so he opened the gate and introduced me to Gori, a 3-week-old black filly with a white blaze. Gori’s father was last year’s champion Marwari stallion, said Dinesh, who petted and cuddled the sweet baby as we chatted. Usually, the young horses are afraid of people, he said, but the workers who groom the mama, Rupali, couldn’t resist brushing little Gori, too. She nuzzled my hand and let me pet her velvety nose.


The adjoining stall housed three yearlings, also heartbreakingly adorable.

Riding Lessons
Each morning and afternoon, we all crowded under the wide umbrella of a magnolia tree for lessons from Inder Jit. Dinesh and several grooms helped facilitate the lessons, sprinting alongside high-spirited horses and calling out instructions to the riders. They generally kept three horses going at a time, giving the students 5 to 10 minutes of practice each.


Early in our relationship, I took Tony horseback riding. He walked his horse to the middle of the field, dropped the reins and let his horse eat grass while I cantered around him for an hour. You can imagine my surprise when he confidently leapt up on his Marwari horse at Krishna Ranch and took off around the arena. After four years of chaperoning this trip, he has acquired a pretty substantial set of horsemanship skills. That’s my cowboy.

During the first lesson, my horse clearly wanted to exit the arena and get back to her friends at the stable. Dinesh told me to make the turn sooner, rather than riding the whole length of the ring. “Then she will know what you want,” he said. When my turn finished, we chatted more about that. He mentioned that he’s been working with Bollywood directors who need horses for their films. The director often just wants to start shooting as soon as the horse shows up, but Dinesh asks, “What will you want this horse to do?” Then he puts a trained rider on the horse to practice the scene several times before any filming starts. When it’s time for the actor to do it, the horse knows what to do.

Side note: John C. Reilly recently spent some time here with Dinesh, getting riding lessons and then shooting scenes for “The Cowboys,” a French film that came out earlier this year. “Some of our guys had to dress in Pakistani clothes with guns and everything,” Dinesh said.

One afternoon, we all struggled with the horses during our lesson. They were refusing directions, bucking, spooking at the fence line, bolting, and even rearing a bit. The kids got pretty nervous and started gasping and worrying when they watched their friends take turns. (A scary cow was hanging around on the other side of the arena’s wall.) As the last rider, I was ready to opt out. By then, the horses were full-on wacko. But Dinesh convinced me to climb aboard a skittish bay mare named Rani. He helped me convince Rani to turn left when she really wanted to turn right, which we practiced several times. After she realized she wouldn’t get her way, she completely relaxed and let me take control. Once again, I recognized Dinesh’s gentle genius.

Hack Rides

Between lessons, we went on a “hack,” or trail ride, each day.
Day 1: We rode single file with a groom walking alongside each horse to the nearby village of Bada Havala. I was assigned to Noori, a stubborn pinto, and told to take up the rear. We were supposed to keep a horse length between us, but Noori really wanted to get to the front of the line. I managed to keep her under control, just barely, but I bloodied a knuckle in the battle, and I worried that I was hurting her mouth by holding the reins so tightly. When we stopped to walk around another village, Chorta Havala, I whined to Dinesh. He told me to trade horses with Bijay, one of our tour assistants (and expert horseman/polo star). I swallowed my pride and rode Suresh, a gray gelding, for the rest of the hack (and the subsequent hacks). Calm and gentle, Suresh allowed me to relax and enjoy the scenery.

As we clomped through the villages and countryside, young children bounded out of their homes to wave and shout, “Hello! Bye bye! Dada!” (One of our students told me “dada” is like “ta ta” in English.) We passed homes of newlyweds where the outside walls were painted with a traditional wedding procession – camel symbolizing love, elephant symbolizing good luck, and horse symbolizing virility One house also had the groom on a horse and the bride being carried in a palanquin. “They can’t afford the real procession like a maharaja, so they paint it instead,” Dinesh explained.

On our ride and walk, we noticed many animals with painted horns, most notably some bullocks with very long pointed horns painted bright orange, red and blue. Dinesh said the paint was a remnant of Diwali, the most sacred Hindu holiday. Farmers celebrate by decorating their hard-working animals in a show of gratitude. That includes expensive paint on the horns, henna decorations on their legs, beaded necklaces and other adornments. Another fun farmer tradition at Diwali: They set up a puja, or shrine, in front of the home, using animal dung to form idols of the gods and adding a little incense and other props. Then they open the gate and let their animals parade out of the courtyard to trample the puja and track dung down the path, leaving a temporary reminder to neighbors of their animal-owning status.

Day 2: Our group filed out the Krishna Ranch gate and on to the trail on the same horses we had yesterday. We rode to “Shilpgram – The Rural Arts and Crafts Complex,” a sprawling representation of villages in Western India. The place was mostly deserted, and the students were mostly apathetic. Still it was interesting to see how many villages cluster homes around a courtyard with a few key industries. According to the Shilpgram website, “Traditional village life was said to have been, to a considerable extent, self-contained and self-sufficient with a potter, a carpenter, a blacksmith, often a weaver, living alongside one another.”

Our silly students posing at the sculpture garden.

Back at the ranch, grooms unsaddled the horses and let them take turns rolling in a pile of sand to cool off. The horses looked ecstatic as they shimmied their sweaty backs down into the sand, kicking their legs in the air, but when they stood up again they were caked with grit.


After lunch, we returned to our horses for a brushing session. The grooms showed us the technique: vigorous curry combing for about 40 minutes on each side, followed by a softer brush. Suresh stood patiently while I groomed him and actually fell asleep while I gently stroked his chin. Sweet boy.

Day 3: This was my favorite trail ride. Astride our hyper steeds, we traipsed through the countryside and up into the hills to Badi Lake, a man-made reservoir that provides irrigation water to farmers in the valley. We passed the most fascinating people and scenery along the way.

Stone walls enclosed small fields of wheat, which were just beginning the transformation from green to golden. Bougainvillea draped over fences and climbed up walls, adding a splash of fuchsia, coral, baby pink and white to the dry, dusty landscape. At one point, it created a canopy overhead, dropping neon leaves on the path like a natural red carpet. Herds of little goats scrambled up the hillsides or mewed at us from their tethers. Water buffalo with curlicue horns lounged in the shade of their enclosures. Always a little cranky looking, they raised their noses in the air, rolled their eyes, and flapped their ears when alerted to our presence. We passed a camel that was nearly obscured by the towering cargo of hay on its cart. One enclosed field was cleared and brown but featured one towering tree, planted in a concrete ring, with branches bare of leaves but fiery with saffron blooms that rained down on the parched earth. The scene looked like a sepia snapshot with a Photoshopped splash of orange.

Village ladies always catch my eye as they labor in the fields or around their homes dressed in colors that offset the drudgery. Several times, a woman would hear our hoofbeats, pop up from the wheatfield, pull her dupatta up over her head and wave with a big smile. Others crouched by the irrigation channels to wash blankets, which they draped over the bushes to dry. Heads piled high with freshly harvested greens, a few ladies emerged from the fields and paused to watch us pass. Many stood roadside with their children. All wore saris in shocking hues of mainly red, orange and yellow.

We took a short break to check out the reservoir. Tony noted that the water level changes dramatically, depending on rainfall during the monsoon season. He pointed to a small temple near the shoreline, almost completely submerged with only a bit of its spire poking out of the water. “I’ve been here when the water is below that temple,” he said. “And I’ve been here when the water was up to the edge of this path.”


Down Time
Between lessons and rides, we sat on our porch or strolled around the property. Our building’s exterior was painted with traditional Rajasthani designs, including glued-on little round mirrors, and the jhali screen above the door featured an image of Ganesh. Sparrows had stuffed sticks and other debris inside the jhali (a mesh screen on the inside kept it all from falling on the bedroom floor), and they flitted in and out of the nest. It was like having pet birds that could come and go as they pleased.



Sitting in rattan chairs on our porch, we overlooked a large garden, where the cook, Narani, might be digging up onions or picking chilis. Next to the garden, workers collected water from a pump to wash big pots or to give the horses a drink. On the far side of the garden stood a long row of stalls, where horses lay in the straw or stood with their heads hanging out the windows, calling to their friends. To the right of our porch, just under our bedroom window, a farrier trimmed the horses’ hooves and tacked on new shoes. Cookie, the puppy that wandered on to the property one day and never left, curled under a tree to gnaw on the discarded trimmings. (Dinesh said the puppy enjoys riding in the saddlebag on multi-day horse safaris.)


Climbing to the roof of another building, we watched huge langur monkeys leaping from tree to tree and then pausing to snack. We gasped as a tiny baby monkey held on for dear life when its mother soared through the air, grabbed for a branch and swung to a perch. From our vantage point, we watched the soft green wheat sway in the breeze while peacocks wandered through the fields.

Behind our building, additional horses were tied up, along with a baby camel and a menagerie of chickens, goats and dogs. Watching the baby goats was better than TV.

On the rooftop of our building, we ate meals, lingered over chai and played Uno in the evening as the sun set behind the Aravelli hills.


On our final night at the ranch, Dinesh built a campfire for us. The kids roasted marshmallows, sang songs, pointed out constellations, and told stories.

Honey, I bought a camel.
Wandering slowly back to our room one evening, we encountered Dinesh and Francine. At the same time, the young camel came ambling down the path, led by one of the grooms.
“What do you do with that camel?” Tony asked.
“Even we don’t know what to do with it!” said Francine. “We’ll get rid of it, I think. They can be quite dangerous. Look!” The camel was tugging on the lead, trying to run.
We all followed the camel down to a small paddock. The groom let the camel loose inside, where it bucked and popped in the air, gangly legs kicking out at unpredictable angles. The puppy Cookie tentatively trotted into the paddock, ears perked at this curiosity, but then bolted under the fence when the camel’s wild thrashing came too close.
Although we all had a good giggle at the goofy camel, Francine repeated her protest about camel ownership. Tony and I joked about how most husbands get in trouble for buying a tech gadget or other expensive toy without asking their wives.
“How did you break the news when you brought home a camel?” we asked Dinesh.
He said the camel was a surprise even to him. He had been looking for one of his grooms, and someone announced, “He went to get the camel.” Sure enough, the groom showed up later with the baby camel that charmed its way into permanent residence at Krishna Ranch.
“He really was so cute and little,” said Francine.
Although the little camel is still too young to be useful, Dinesh plans to use him for hauling cargo on multi-day horse safaris in the future. “That is a good idea,” Francine conceded.


On the afternoon of our departure, some of the handlers demonstrated a few tricks. Dinesh said the horses often perform at weddings – dancing, bowing, rearing up high, and walking on their back legs. Then we gathered all the workers and our group together to express our gratitude. Our only Hindi-speaking student shared our appreciation and understanding that their long hours and hard work led to such a meaningful visit for us. We all shook hands, enjoyed a last glass of chai, hugged our horses good-bye, and trudged down the dusty path to meet our bus.


A short flight later, we were back in Delhi, saddle sore but filled with bliss.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Lip Sync Party: True Love

Everybody seems to be lipdubbing or dubsmashing all over the place these days. That’s why it’s a little tricky to explain why the Second Annual AES Lip Sync Party on May 16 was so special.

Was it seeing our friends and colleagues step outside their comfort zone? Was it the knowledge that a performance was the ticket for admission, so nobody was there to judge or heckle? Was it the face-cramping laughter? Was it the tables full of liquor donated by departing teachers cleaning out their cupboards? Was it the wigs, the costumes, the general silliness? Was it the video appearance of two stars from last year’s party or the surprise live appearance of friends who had left India?

Most likely, it was all that plus the genuine affection we felt for our school community. We’ve had some ups and downs in the last few years, and some of the downs have been doozies, but we stuck together. When a teacher breaks out a freestyle poem about #this place, and the crowd goes wild, well, you know you have something unique.

Much to my surprise, Tony agreed to perform with me. We sang the first minute or so of “True Love” by Pink, a song about sticking with someone despite their flaws. We dedicated the song to our cat, Khushi. If you’re one of the five people on the planet who don’t know how Khushi destroyed our lives this year, then read the backstory after the video.

Disclaimer: This party took place at AES with a bunch of AES teachers, but it was NOT sanctioned by the school, nor were any children present!

I would love to post the video of the whole evening because you can’t help but smile when see all the love in that room. However, I’ll respect the privacy of my peers and only share our own performance. Here ya go:

Back story: After summering in the States last year, we returned to Delhi to find our cat Khushi had gone bonkers. Our other cat, Ella, was totally fine, but Khushi screamed her head off day and night and peed on everything in sight. We took her to several different vets and tried a variety of interventions, including powerful anti-anxiety drugs in people form (no kitty prozac available in India). Nothing worked. At night, she would repeatedly run across our bed, howling maniacally. We took turns sleeping, with the other person sitting in another room to keep Khushi distracted. Tony was ready to euthanize her after a couple weeks, but I just couldn’t bear to do it. Instead, we suffered through almost eight months of sleep deprivation and zero quality of life. We couldn’t entertain because it stressed out the cat, but we couldn’t go out to dinner or visit friends because we worried she was peeing all over the house. Finally, a new vet speculated that her spaying had been botched. If any reproductive tissue remains in a cat, she will continue to go into heat until she gets pregnant. Awesome. The vet gave her a hormone shot, and – just like that – Khushi returned to relative normal. Needless to say, this experience consumed us for most of the school year. Everyone who asked, “How’s it going?” got an earful. Some days, that question triggered tears. That’s why we decided to sing our song in honor of Khushi.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Falling in love again … India Week at AES New Delhi

Yikes, with only three weeks left in the school year, I’m looking forward to summer and family-filled stories that will overflow these pages. I’m also looking back at a busy spring that I failed to document. So, let’s catch up, shall we?

India Week at the American Embassy School always makes me fall in love again with my host country. The day-to-day grind of Delhi living can wear a girl down and make her long for clean air and tank tops. Then India Week rolls around in early February, and our campus morphs into a living laboratory of Indian culture. My little second graders – even the boys – sit quietly with cloth and wooden hoops in their laps as they learn the traditional craft of Gujarati embroidery. Outside, they cluster around the mehendi artist who decorates their hands with henna designs – peacocks, lotus flowers and the AES tiger. They watch a potter turn the wheel to form a terracotta pot, and then they take a turn. They press the sandy clay into moulds and pop out a diya lamp and a tiny Ganesh. Other artisans demonstrate their crafts, including batik painting, papier-mâché, wood block printing, leather sandals, paper toys, miniature painting, wood carving, silk weaving, embroidery, bead work and more. Student blogs transform into reflections about practicing yoga, screen printing T-shirts, sampling Indian snacks and walking the runway to model costumes of India. The week culminates with Indian Clothes Dress-Up Day, when our corridors explode in color and bling as students and teachers swish around in saris, lehengas, salwar kameeze and other finery.

Here’s a teaser for a fascinating (albeit too long and complicated for second graders) film.

Potter Mr. Ram Prashad.

Our second-grade team.

Allyn Goowin’s Balloowins may have been only tangentially related to India, but he did engage students to goofily re-enact a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana, and children were literally rolling in the aisles laughing.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Mundane but thought-provoking: A typical week in Delhi

Sometimes daily life seems so mundane. Then you drive past an elephant in your neighborhood, and it makes you think.
Sure, we go to work early and come home late. Sure, we play with our cats, watch TV and go to bed.
But we also drive past elephants.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never pass an elephant without recognizing how truly weird and special that is.
(photo by Tony)

What else happened in my mundane week? Well, Nancy and I visited the Blind School Diwali Mela, where you can find everything gilded and sparkly one needs for a proper Diwali celebration while helping to support the local school. The bazaar is called the “Blind School Diwali Mela,” but I guess I never really processed the fact that it takes place on the campus of the BLIND SCHOOL. When Nancy and I sought a restroom, we wandered into part of the school where kids were hanging out in tiny austere classrooms.

While shopping, we paused for a coconut thirst quencher, a 15-minute massage (less than $1) and a tarot card reading.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never tire of glimpses behind the scenes, exotic treats, cheap foot rubs and dabbling in the occult.



Some friends hosted a Halloween party Friday night. I dressed as the Air Quality Indicator, a timely costume as the air pollution skyrocketed off the chart that day. There were a few zombies, but India-centric costumes at the party also included a gone-native Delhi tourist, a backpacker on her way to a yoga course, a Diwali diya (oil lamp), an elephant, a covered-up tuk-tuk meter, a belly dancer and a worker at our campus coffee shop.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always surround myself with friends who treasure the inside stories of our host country.
(Photo by Marina)

Fall Fiesta, our school’s Halloween-themed fund-raiser for high school activities, took place Saturday night. I volunteered selling wristbands for kids to play the homemade “arcade games,” which were split into Big Camp for youngsters over 7 and Small Camp for the little ones. Tony volunteered at the Small Camp tricycle races. I bought 48 raffle tickets and won an emerald bracelet, but my favorite part of the night was hearing, “Hi, Mrs. Dent!” from current and former students, including a French Canadian Dracula and his older sister zombie, a Japanese cat, a Kuwaiti princess, an Australian strawberry, an American bride, and a collection of monsters, skeletons and creepy characters from around the world.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always value the global perspective of a diverse classroom.

Another typical event in our New Delhi lives: The cats discover endless ways to trash our home. Here, Ella’s face is a blur as she maniacally shreds a roll of toilet paper.
Mundane? Yes.
And there’s no lesson to be learned. It just makes me laugh.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Sparks fly at middle school play practice

I have filled my life with drama this year. School drama, that is.

Today we had a rehearsal for the middle school play, “The Fireworks Maker’s Daughter,” and the drama teacher, Thaba, wanted students to think about the physicality of working with and watching fireworks. Obviously, we won’t set off real fireworks in the theater, so she elicited ideas about how the stagecraft class might design props and explained that dancers will BE the fireworks in some scenes. To spark their imaginations, she brought them all to the field for a mid-day fireworks show.

Students crowded around our visiting fireworks expert, Mohinder, who unloaded a big bag of goodies. Thaba reminded kids to closely monitor the actions involved in lighting fireworks. As the fireworks exploded, shrieked, swirled, whistled, and showered sparks, she encouraged actors and dancers to remember their own physical reactions. Back in the rehearsal space, students debriefed and shared fantastic insights gleaned from the experience.

Such a fun, creative, caring bunch of adults. Such talented, reflective, committed kids. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.



facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Nuts for NUTS

Jangling bangles, swirling skirts, glittering bindis and big smiles set the stage for a gala evening yesterday at Night Under the Stars, an annual fundraiser staged by our school’s PTA. Indian drummers greeted guests on a candle-lit path past a pink-draped tent photo-opp and down to the AES field, where sponsors’ booths ringed the dinner tables and Mughal Empire-themed props set the mood.

As we lingered in the courtyard next to the field, a school employee quickly pushed me away from a dia that threatened to send my lehenga up in flames. The little traditional candles posed a serious fire hazard to those of us dressed in floor-grazing elegance! However, it was hard to focus on fire prevention while gawking at everyone arriving at the party. Just one formally clad mannequin in a store window here can take your breath away; imagine hundreds of people sashaying by in an unimaginable range of silken styles and colors. The men, in general, wore interesting but understated costumes or suits, but the women stole the show. Rhinestone-encrusted tops and full heavy skirts. Glimpses of skin under carefully draped shimmering saris. Bare-backed anarkalis with fitted bodices that flared into golden trim. Dramatic make-up and hair ornaments dripping with jewels. Delicate dupatta scarves tossed over shoulders. We kept telling each other, “You look so beautiful!” because everyone honestly did.

The visual feast served as a great distraction from my lingering cold and laryngitis. We mingled, enjoyed a nice dinner and even got Tony out on the dance floor. Truly a special night.

This is how we got to the party. No, not really.

AES Director Bob Hetzel gets thronged by the ladies.

Tony shunned a turban for his suit, but you know I love to break out the fancy costumes!

That’s our table in the foreground.

It is NOT easy to dance in these clothes.

Prop du jour: cowboy hat, courtesy of Laura Pitale, another AES teacher.

More shots from NUTS.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

City Slickers in Udaipur

Tony just left for the Marwari Safari, an Indian take on “City Slickers.” He’ll spend five days at the Krishna Ranch near Udaipur, which is southwest of New Delhi, learning horsemanship and exploring the Arravali mountains on horseback … with 19 high school students. His trip is one of several mini-courses offered this week to students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi. They are so lucky!

Never mind that the last time we went horse-back riding, Tony dropped the reins and let his horse eat grass while I cantered in circles around him.

Tony, another teacher, and the kids will ride to Tiger Lake, rural villages, a wildlife sanctuary and several agricultural areas. He may come home a little saddle-sore, but I bet he’ll have some wonderful stories.

Check out the Krishna Ranch website. It looks amazing!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Discover India Week at AES

Discover India Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 3, was my favorite week so far at the American Embassy School here in New Delhi! Every morning started with dancers and musicians at the school gates. The hallways burst with color as students and teachers dressed in their Indian clothes. Children tried their hand at block-printing, pottery, traditional construction methods and other cultural pursuits. Everything felt so … Indian!

Each grade level focused on a specific aspect of Indian culture across the curriculum. I teach third graders, who explored Indian Folktales and Stories Showing Courage. They learned about India’s visual storytelling tradition with demonstrations by Sharon Lowen, the head of Indian Studies at AES. She visited their classrooms with story scrolls and a wooden box that opened to reveal hinged panels painted with beloved tales of Hindu gods.

Lowen, a renowned expert in three forms of classical Indian dance, also demonstrated storytelling through Odissi dance movements. She brought some of the kids up on stage for a workshop.

Students met puppeteer Anurupa Roy, who taught them how to transfer the nuances of physicality from their own bodies to the puppets on their hands.

Many artisans spent the week at our school, demonstrating their crafts and selling the products. I was most fascinated by this guy, who made “lac” bangles. They are quite expensive, and I never understood why. Now I do! The craftsman makes the bracelets from “lac,” a type of tree resin by warming it over hot coals until it’s pliable. Then he twists and works the resin, using a mold to distribute it evenly. Very interesting!

Other artisans demonstrated glass blowing, kite construction, traditional toy making, weaving, and wooden puppet carving. Here’s a slideshow.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Walk for Life – we suffer so cancer patients won’t have to

Deep sigh.
I’ve avoided writing this post because (a) I’m trying to block out the experience, and (b) because it’s mean and probably unlucky to write a snarky post about an organization that provides care for cancer patients, right? Right.
So, here goes.

CanSupport, a local organization that provides services for cancer patients, recently set up a registration booth for its annual Walk for Life in the school courtyard where I often eat lunch. I figured, “Sure! I’ll pay $6 to benefit this worthy cause and participate in a blog-worthy event.” An all-staff email encouraged participants to walk together with the AES banner. I looked forward to meeting some colleagues and chatting along the route.

On the morning of Feb. 5, I rode to the Walk for Life with a few other teachers, and we tried in vain to hook up with the rest of the AES group. The starting line was literally mobbed with an estimated 8,000 walkers, and the groups with banners stood on the other side of the mob and past some security tape. How were we supposed to get over there? We never did figure it out.
Security at the entrance.

I wanted a photo of our little group with the sign, but before I could stop them, some clowns jumped in the picture. I’m not a huge fan of clowns.

Waiting with the mob: John, me, Katrina and Lea Carol.

The 4-kilometer walk followed Rajpath, (“King’s Road” in Hindi) a street that runs from Delhi’s iconic India Gate to the president’s house. The India Gate was shrouded in smog, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, wife of the Prime Minister of India, waved the flag to kick off the walk, and we ever so slowly shuffled forward.
And they’re off! Like a herd of turtles.

I discovered that Delhiwallas walk just like they drive: sprint forward quickly, then stop, turn, move on the diagonal, pause, back up, clump together, push others out of your way, and yell a lot. Many walkers brought their dogs. One canine participant left a steaming souvenir right in the path. Luckily, it happened while there was a gap in front of my group, so we saw and dodged the poo bomb. I’m sure others packed in behind us were not so lucky. Groups of school children shrieked the names of their schools over and over … and over … and over. Individuals spotted acquaintances in the distance and screamed out to them repeatedly, despite the obvious sound-drowning effect of the school kids.

At one point, we passed our AES group after a turn-around point. I could have jumped over the security tape that separated the two paths, but I didn’t want to literally cut corners and cheat myself out of doing the whole walk.

To redeem myself for the self-righteous, culturally insensitive, judgmental nature of this post, I will now provide the link to CanSupport and a heartfelt solicitation for your support. It really is an important organization that brings information, comfort, palliative care, medication and equipment subsidies, and counseling to cancer patients and their families.

The best part is there is a “Donate” button so you never ever have to participate in the Walk for Life again. (Unless you have a crowd/dog poo/high-pitched noise/chaos void you need to fill.)

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Gond Tribal Artist encounter

A newcomer to India’s art culture, I can only say I love it ALL! Textiles, furniture, paintings, sculpture … every piece I’ve seen bursts with symbolism or cultural nuances that beg for interpretation. With a tradition of visual storytelling, generations of Indians have passed on religious stories, myths, folktales and morality lessons through art. When I heard a visiting artist was sharing his Gond Tribal Art (“Bhiti Chitra” – Wall Art – in Hindi) with elementary school students, I eagerly dashed up two flights of stairs to meet him.

I found Sunil Dhurvey sitting cross-legged on the floor with a painting on a clipboard in his lap and a ink pen in his hand. He looked up and shyly returned my exuberant “Namaste.”


Having used up my Hindi, I gratefully engaged Kanika Roy, art teaching assistant, and Rupa Samaria, a Delhi artist and substitute teacher, to translate during my interview.

They explained that Sunil and his wife, Santoshi, had traveled for two days by bus and train from their home in Dindori Village, Madhya Pradesh.
Screen Shot 2012-02-11 at 4.54.09 PM

I wondered if Dindori Village was a hotbed of artists, but Sunil said most of the 400 residents – including himself – are farmers. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why do you spend so much time on art? Why don’t you go and work in the field?'” he said. His answer? “I love it.”

Sunil informally learned the techniques of Gond Tribal Art from a young age by watching his mother paint the designs on walls and floors of village buildings, especially for festivals, weddings and other celebrations.

According to an article by Venus Vinod Upadhayaya on the LifePositive website,

Originally done with four-coloured mud found in the forest, the Gond tribal paintings were drawn on the walls of the houses and were an integral part of the tribal festivity, rituals, and day-to-day living. … Gonds believe that (the) Narmada (river) was once a woman and was married to the Sonmura river. During the marriage rituals, the turmeric from her body fell down on the earth and created the yellow mud. The black mud was collected from within the tribal village whereas the white had to be fetched from another forest nearby. Both men and women would paint on the walls. The original drawings on the cowdung-smeared walls were scenes from the forest and its creatures, and depictions of traditional dances and tribal deities.

By the age of 12, Sunil said, he was creating his own art. I asked if he would be a mentor to younger aspiring artists, but he shook his head. Kanika elaborated, “Usually in the villages they don’t teach young ones how to paint this type of art. They just watch and they learn. If they are painting on a building, they think about what would go with that type of building. For example, if they are painting the storage building for grain, they might paint birds or mice because those animals are likely to be found there.”

Sunil displayed small paintings on cardstock and larger ones on canvas. He said the Gond Tribal Art style is known for its depictions of stories about nature (especially the Narmada River), mythological characters and gods, and daily life. Rupa pointed to one of his paintings, hanging on the classroom whiteboard, and said, “This is a typical village scene with the women fishing and the men cutting the rock. The rocks are used to create a trap in the river. They catch fish and put them in the baskets.”

In this photo, Santoshi and Sunil show some of their works. Santoshi painted the ones on the table, and she said they represent the kinds of work she does on village buildings. I wish I had taken a second shot as Sunil really has a lovely smile! Sunil’s mother still paints, and he even brought one of her pieces (but it had already sold by the time I met him).

I bought these two peacock paintings from Sunil for about $10 each, but the wonderful experience of getting to know the artist before buying his work was priceless.


Such fun detail!

If you are in India, speak Hindi and want to see Sunil’s work, give him a call: 0-88894-08539

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather