25th January 2015
Recently I’ve been working on a few of my own projects apart from the environmental stuff so I’ve been putting this trip update off. But here it is at last!
We used Uber taxis for the first time on the 21st of December to get to the airport in fifteen or eighteen minutes. We flew to Atlanta through Vegas which had slot machines in the airport! The family we were visiting had names all beginning with M – M1, cousin of Santosh, M2, her husband and M3, their five year old son. M2 picked us up from the airport and we spoke to M1 and M3 on the phone. M3 was very eager to see us and had been excited about our visit all day. Santosh asked him to count to 10000 by which time we would’ve reached their house.
When we did reach, around twenty minutes later, we found M3 lying asleep on his mothers lap exhausted from the very sincere effort he had put into counting. M1 had recorded this on her phone to show us. He had gotten tired and sleepy and asked if she could take over counting for him for a while so he could rest. When he finally gave up to sleep, he said he would wake up with a jolt when we ring the doorbell. But poor thing, he was too tired and so he was carried to his bedroom for the night.
The next morning, we were woken by small footsteps near the bedroom door and small bespectacled eyes peering in, wondering whether we would mind if he entered. We said hello and called him in. He attempted to sleep next to Santosh for a while but he was too awake, kept whispering and moving so we ended up getting up. As Santosh was working from home, M3 and I spend a lot of time together – playing games, ball throwing, magic tricking the ball from upstairs to downstairs, karate, piano, yoga, telling stories, and watching a animation movie in the afternoon together though I dozed off. M3 and I also spent some time drawing boats, playing tic tac toe, taking pics on his iphone, and doing a tiger puzzle. By the afternoon, M3 got very friendly, saying ‘I love you’ to me and giving me affectionate hugs. That evening, Santosh made him a special ‘M’ shaped chapati.
This day started very similarly with a five year old wandering into our room looking to start playing for the day. He even told me I sleep too much though I had slept much later than him and I was still on California time. It was interesting trying to convey jetlag to him. Most of the second day was spent in making the cookie house that was to be eaten on New Year’s Eve when other family members from the East coast states would also join us. M1 was the one who did the most. I helped make the sweet glue with corn syrup, and powdered white sugar with a little vanilla extract. Later we made coloured versions of this because the coloured icing they had in tubes was a little dry for decoration. The design changed a few times and M3 was happy to give inputs. Santosh joined us after more work and made some impressive flags with crackers and Smarties. Though I had gone without refined sugar for a month before that and felt comfortably resistant to all the chocolate initially, prolonged exposure to the oreos, hersheys, kitkats and smarties, especially when I was cutting blocks of them to make the fence of the castle tempted me into eating small pieces.
We got done just before dinner and with a sense of satisfaction, the final product was photographed and wrapped in foil to protect it for the next few days.
M3 and I started playing a game that had until then only been one among the many games he liked. He called it rocket ship. We sat on the sofa in his toyroom, he would be the captain, of course, and we would go on adventures from Pluto to the Sun and back. He created dangerous scenarios like volcanoes and tornadoes made of disgusting stinky spaghetti in space and evoked his ‘dust power’ which worked only in sunlight, to solve the problems. We discovered that there was a naughty boy on Pluto that was making all the chaos in space so we went to ‘teach him a lesson’ (making sure M3 understood that when someone does something bad, you have to discuss it with them, not destroy them). He gave voice to that naughty boy and we negotiated that he would come with us to point to another naughty boy near the sun who had been teasing him because of which he ran away to Pluto. After sorting out the fight between these celestial boys, we decided there are too many boys in the ship and we need to add more girls to equalise the ship’s population. M3 suggested we go to pick up some girls in Hawaii. Then he also brought his parents on the trip with us. This resulted in some discussion about where my parents were and what they said about my marrying Santosh.
He had been processing the idea of marriage for quite a while before he got to know me. They had explained to him that Santosh was a big boy and no longer lived with his parents, but he also got lonely so he needed to get married. M3 had said sweetly that he would send Santosh a teddy bear and he won’t be lonely anymore. When Santosh and I got married, M3 said, ‘Santosh has someone to live with now but I get lonely too, so I should get married too.’
We also discussed that in every star ship, the captain has to make the big decisions but the admirals would be the bosses of captains. I told him his mother is his admiral and we have to listen to her. He asserted that he is the captain so he still gets to be the boss of me. More discussions followed on who is the boss of everyone. That his dad could be the boss of his mum and that Santosh, because he is so tall, could be the boss of everyone.
After we, or should I say I, got tired of playing rocketship, M3 retreated to watch TV. We packed for the upcoming trip to Florida and played a little more rocket ship before we slept.
We woke at 5:30 to leave the house by 8, but it was probably closer to 9 by the time we left. The change of car seat upset M3 and it took a lot of convincing to get him into the car. The bright sun shone in our faces as we made our way to Jacksonville where to see Santosh and M1’s cousin’s family. Though we slept a little in the car on the way there, I still felt a little phased out that day. We gave the 1 year old girl a soft toy echidna (that others called a hedgehog) and she was quite taken by the enormous soft green triceratops MMM had gotten her. We gave an operation kit to the four year old and watched as M3 and he got to playing various things all over their house. Santosh spent most time with the kids, carrying them, asking me to take pictures and videos of himself with the 1 year old who he and his sister often compete over. There seemed to be a close cousin connection between the adults and the whole atmosphere was very friendly. We enjoyed lunch together and they started a movie called Kalyana Samayal. With all the activity, most people only noticed parts of the movie and asked for parts of the plot they missed. As the conversations between the adults were mostly in Kannada and I hadn’t slept properly I found it harder to concentrate on conversation than usual. Santosh and I do this thing, not too seriously, where we compete for children’s attention and affections. While most boys prefer him, most girls prefer me. The exception was with this one year old girl. She preferred Santosh over me so clearly that I got jealous. Her mother and M1 tried to comfort me that it was about his height and that he was wearing red and that children like bright colours. Next time I see them, I will wear the shiniest and brightest of clothes. We slept there and had another early start to the day going to Disney.
The next morning, M3 and I disagreed in the car about kicking books. We had tantrums and mini-fights every once in a while when we spent long periods in the car together but the great thing was how quickly we’d get over it and get back to playing. The original plan had been to drop me and Santosh off in Epcot and take the car to Magic Kingdom. But the traffic to Magic Kingdom was so horrible that the car was parked in Epcot, and MMM took the monorail to Magic Kingdom.
In Epcot Santosh and I headed to Mission Space. We selected the level Orange – for intense training. The whole of Epcot had background music so as we waited in line it felt like we were on the brink of a great space adventure. When we got in, were were given safety instructions not to move our eyes away from the screen. Indeed, it was disorienting to move your eyes. There was lots of realistic G force, and I screamed during the intense movements to let out the thrill and exhilaration.
Next we went to Soarin for which we had a Fastpass (a system in which if you prebook the hour in which you want to enter a ride you get faster access into it – no extra charge, just planning ahead). Once you buckle in, it lifts you up for a ride over the Californian coast with huge screen spanning all your visual field. Though they warn riders that if you are scared of heights you should be wary of going on these rides, I found it quite manageable.
Then we went to Captain EO – to watch Michael Jackson in the first 3D movie made in the 80s. I found it quite impressive for that time, they certainly knew how to use 3D to maximum effect.
As the lines for Captain EO had been relatively uncrowded we didn’t use our fastpass for it and wanted to use it for a different ride.
While we waited for our allotted time on Spaceship Earth, we explored Project Tomorrow and the Disney Art Shop. Spaceship Earth was a slow ride through time – the models and sets were very realistic and well done. There were sets of cave men, civilisation, paper, books, communication developments, computers, and where we will go in the future. It was very beautifully done. It landed us back in Project Tomorrow where we played a few more games on energy distribution (reaching the level of Paris), checking our reaction times, memory and hand eye coordination and looking at Siemen’s ideas for the future in health, energy etc.
Next we walked around the world show case. In Canada we saw a short documentary with surround screen of scenery and cities with one of their comedians. In France also we saw a documentary and ate an eclair. We went onward to Morocco, Germany, Norway, China, Japan, UK (where there was live music) and some others possibly. Each country had some Disney associations. We charged our phones in the Aztec pyramid of Mexico and made our way back to Morocco for food. Since we still had time we decided to go wait in the Chevrolet line to try their fast cars. When we got in, we were asked to design a car and the specs of our car would be tested on the track. The ride is a self-driving car which runs into obstacles, makes sharp turns. The final is for speed. It was just thrilling to go that fast without a windshield! By then my headache, which had started with the G-forces that morning, had become worse, but I had lots of fun so I couldn’t complain. To end the day, we sat at the edge of the world showcase, along the lake and watched the fireworks-water fountains-laser show. Just as it was ending, we headed to the car to meet MMM.
We got to hotel late, M1 gave me a roll on headache thing that smelled like Amrutanjan. Though I had been comfortable outside, I felt very cold before I fell asleep because in the hotel, they had the AC automatically on. We turned it down.
The next morning again we got up relatively early to go to NASA! This was especially exciting for M3 who had been wanting to go on a real spaceship. Santosh and I were also quite excited. It was a two and half hour drive in the morning and we saw the rocket garden as we approached NASA. We went for the tour of the launch control and moon mission rockets. When we came out we saw the massive rocket and as we walked around the various parts there was a rock brought back from the moon which we could touch. I was so so SO excited by this! Then I touched a MOON ROCK!!! wowowowowowow!!!! It felt so real and unreal at the same time. I had made up several stories as a child about being an alien, flying into outer space, doing to different dimensions of reality, floating on the clouds, etc. and not too long ago, I was obsessed with Star Trek, Star Gate and other space related entertainment. But touching the Moon Rock was the closest I’ve really come to anything outside earth. It was dark and smoother than I expected. It reminded me of the first chapter of ‘Fragments of Reality’, a book I browsed through in my friend’s house in Edinburgh (or maybe it was her boyfriend’s book) which illustrated the universe in a way that I felt closely related not only to our whole solar system but our galaxy cluster!
After checking out all the displays of that mission, the documentary, the real launch control used for the moon landing, and learning more about the whole moon story, we went back to main NASA by bus as the driver told us more about the area, alligators and birds. Then we waited in line for an hour for lunch – Mediterranean pizza which was the only vegetarian option.
Having refueled ourselves, we went for the Atlantis show which consisted of two 12 min documentaries and then the unveiling of the shuttle itself. I really grew to appreciate all the hard work, effort, brainpower and human enterprising abilities involved in NASA’s work. I almost cried when they showed us the real shuttle retired after so many missions. What an amazing machine. We saw the displays, played a shuttle landing game – terribly – and then went for the shuttle simulation which was a bumpy ride with some G force but not as intense as the orange level training in Disney. M3 was too short to go, so his mum and he went on the rocket slide. I felt very disappointed for him because he had been looking forward to this. But he seemed happy enough afterward and Santosh remarked that the ride would probably have been too much for him anyway.
Then we went to IMAX 3D to watch the Hubble story. It was a pretty awesome story of discovery and while MMM went to an Angry Birds-Space area for kids, Santosh and I checked out the gallery of photos taken by Hubble and some more meteors that had fallen on earth! Overall it had been a fascinating, stimulating, and inspiring day. I wanted to see, and learn a lot more about our universe. Santosh is very passionate and interested in space anyway too. It would be fun to learn more together. We stopped at Giovanni’s for a pasta dinner on our way to the hotel. In the car M3 had been telling me many Miki Mouse stories in a lot of detail. He would turn my face with his small hands and maintain eye-contact as he talked endlessly about the bad guys and the good guys, starting new sections of the story with “and, and, did you knoooooow…”
We were heading back to Atlanta. We left in no real rush. The weather was great! Slightly humid, warm weather. It was hard to believe it was December! We stopped at beach to enjoy the wonderful temperature that reminded me a little of parts of Tamil Nadu or Sydney beaches. We collected shells, got into the water and enjoyed the beautiful waves and soft sand. After the fun at the beach we got back into our ‘rocketship’ again, stopped for lunch in Panera bread, where I had pumpkin soup and Mediterranean sandwich. After driving some more, we took another break in the rest area where M3 ran around, hopped and jumped to feel less cranky. Then we stopped for dinner at a Subway on the outskirts of Atlanta and got home in the night.
28th Dec was the day Santosh and I met in person for the first time.
The headache that had come with less sleep, bright lights and overstimulation disappeared the previous day. I don’t normally get headaches so I was a little taken aback. Being back in Atlanta and expecting the big group only in the evening, I got up late. We opened the Christmas gifts we had left under the tree on the morning we left to Florida. I got a very pretty colourful handbag, Santosh got an interesting puzzle which is known as the world’s toughest puzzle(?), and M3 got a tent! 🙂
The family in the van arrived in the evening, a little later than expected but with a lot more energy than expected. The energy level of the whole house went up exponentially. S1, M1’s older sister, also brought gifts – I was very touched that she had knitted a pair of colour blended fingerless mittens for me. The four younger kids – ages 10, 14, 14 and 15 brought songs invented in the car, catch phrases, a lot of jokes and unsuitable nicknames. The two older ‘kids’ also participated in singing a song for the rest of us called KarvaChauth involving the 10 year old girl’s recent obsession with the ‘Saas-Bahu’ relationships in Hindi soap shows. This led to playing a round of Antakshari. M3 got into it with his made-up song ‘Dady-hee-haaaa, dady-hee-haaaa’. It pleased him to sing it for such a large and attentive audience.
The kids settled themselves in the basement entertainment room for the night and we watched a couple of episodes of Korra together. Last visit the kids and I had bonded over Avatar and Korra was still in its third season. Now that we had all finished the series recently, there was major discussion on some insights revealed in the blogs of the makers. Santosh had been introduced to The Last Airbender by yours truly and taken to it to such an extent that he often makes comparisons and points in other conversations using characters and examples from the series. He was keen to start Korra with the kids and those of us who knew the story were careful not to reveal too much to him.
The next morning S1 was being pampered by her niece from her husband’s side – hair being oiled, feet being massaged, I joined in and gave a 101 on foot massages. That morning was also when M3’s cousin from his dad’s side arrived in Atlanta.
That day we went for a heavy lunch at Sweet Tomato. I piled on a lot of Salad and told M3 veggies will give me superpowers. He didn’t want to believe me. I told him just like Korra, meditation will also give you super powers. He said no, that’s make belief; it can’t be true in the Real world.
After some time digesting, not just salads, but the ice-cream, mousse, muffins and hearty soups and pizza slices, we went to play in the school grounds nearby. There was a little bit of fuss adjusting to M3’s size and understanding of the game. I don’t think he is used to team sports. The fact that he was so young worked to my advantage several times because he could free us from our prisons and no one had the heart to catch him. V, S2, M3 and I were on one team. A1, B, D and Santosh were on the other team. S3 had a foot injury so A2 had taken her back with M1, M2 and R. So when she came back, we switched from playing ‘Capture the Flag’ to football on the field.
Football was a lot of exhausting fun that day. Santosh and B were a formidable team on the offensive with S2 and A2 on the offensive and M1 as a goal keeper. M3, D, A1, V, M2 and I all together took our time to get our act together, though R as our goal keeper did a great job. M3 got upset a few times that the other team was winning so we took two minutes to pretend that he was scoring a goal to get him participating properly. There was some falling (I slipped on the ball) and a lot of chasing, strategising and then we finally reached an equal level with the sporty duo of B and Santosh.
As it was getting chilly as soon as the sun set, we headed back. The group of us were working on different aspects of our dinner. S3 and A1 cut up some vegetables for the salad and veg pulav. A2 amused everyone by bringing out goggles to cut onions. Santosh worked on (his all famous) akki rotis and M1 and S1 worked on the pulav and side dish. As major cooking was going on, the kids also started a discussion on competition, who they were being compared to, what parents expected of them etc. This continued into dinner and when the venting and discussions were over, we gathered the few of us who had gotten deep into a philosophical discussion last time in Michigan about differing Hindu philosophies and went to the basement to get into this discussion. There was V, B, A1, S2, R almost like a mediator, Santosh, S3 and me. What followed was very interesting. We managed to see almost every branch of discussion through to the end. The one we spent most time on was meditation. As I had found a yoga book in M1’s house and had been reading it, and with my recent experience with the google mindfulness course, I shared some points with the others. (I had also tried to teach M3 meditation and apparently he tried doing it recently and told him mum that I taught him that. It was very sweet:)) The discussion went on for a few hours and after the sisters came down to the basement to join us and remind the kids to sleep, some did, and some of us shifted into a smaller room to continue. In the end, there was B, V, S2, me and A1 who rejoined us after a break. I was very happy to have been able to finish the conversation which started so long ago and hear about these topics from younger people. Some very interesting insights and analogies emerged using the contexts and frames of references they were most familiar with, like Harry Potter and other movies. We made a list of topics left to discuss and decided to create an email group to share links and books later on.
31st December 2014
The next day was new years eve. Many in the family went to the temple for ‘Sorgavaasal’ that morning. There was some debate on whether or not to venture out into the city to visit Coke, CNN and other touristy areas. B and I was all for staying indoors and bonding with the people. She and I had an interesting discussion on Any Chua’s Tiger Mom philosophy of raising children. Some of the others did choose to go out to the city. So the morning was pretty laid back. In the afternoon we left much later than the previous day back to the school grounds. We played Kabaddi and again my team lost against the team Santosh was on – he would just surround my team members, grab hold of and pin them to the ground until they stopped saying Kabaddi. We had no such muscle on our side. We went home pretty dusty, all feeling a little sad that the next day, the group that had come south in the van would be heading back.
We finished the rest of Korra Season 1 after dinner and had half hour left of 2014. We made calls to Dubai and India who were already in 2015 to wish them a happy new year. Then we counted down with the people in New York.
1st January 2015
We woke early to visit a temple together in the morning. The first day of the year is often the most crowded. Though the plan was to be done with the temple soon, they didn’t open the god doors until 9:30. We went to see the Vishnu and the Shiva temples and took some group photos outside before the group heading north left. MMM, Santosh, me and D were left and we visited another temple before we went back to the house. M3 had developed a great liking to hide and seek by then and knowing Santosh and I were only staying a couple more days, he was very eager to play as much as possible before we left. D and I also had some nice chats and played with M3 together.
Playing was still at high intensity and when I created a pause or found him before he thought he should be found, he immediately wanted to accelerate to the next round. Then finally he had a meltdown and cried about how much he is going to miss us when we are gone. I felt so bad. Later he recovered and played with D as Santosh and I packed to leave the next day. We were also making arrangements to have dinner with an old flatmate of mine who had come from Germany to Atlanta for a semester abroad program.
Santosh and I left in M1’s hybrid and were impressed by its smoothness. When we arrived at Bhojanic, too early, we liked the jazzy atmosphere. We went to browse in the shop nearby until my flatmate and his companions arrived. He is the first of my German friends I have seen in person since I left last April. It felt simultaneously like no time had passed and like it had been a very long time. We talked a lot through the meal, about changes to life since we last talked, goals we had for the future and we reflected on how we had grown since April. He told me I looked happier and more grown up. I told him he seemed to have become braver and more responsible. We told the others stories of the time that he had tried something I had cooked in the flat and ran to the bathroom with a carton of milk to make the spice go away. Santosh warned him to check the spice level of what he ordered and both he and the other German went to change their order to something more mild. Listening to them chatter away in German by themselves was familiar and felt good. The two other students who we met also told stories of their connection to Germany. At the end of the meal, I handed my flatmate a gift that Santosh had picked out for when we meet him given his love for old forms of music and resistance to mp3 players.
The group of us went looking for frozen yogurt after dinner and found the shops were closed except a cupcake ATM which we were very fascinated by. It was a short evening but very pleasant to see my old friend again and meet his new friends.
M1 packed us lunch for the long flight back home and we drove together to the airport. We reassured M3 that we will meet again soon and that he can come visit us in CA. He was tempted to hop on the flight with us and leave. A sense of sadness came over me as we said our goodbyes. It had been a fun and wonderful trip.