Category Archives: India

Where Are We From? The Third Culture Kid Conundrum

While we were at a chocolate tasting yesterday, a hostess showed us a map of the world’s cocoa producing areas. When she said India Ava piped in, “I am from India and New York.” Not wanting to miss out on the conversation Kayan added, “And Cape Town.”

Sandeep and I always had difficulty answering the “Where are you from?” question. It turns out that we have successfully passed this confusion on to our children. Sandeep and I collectively lived in six countries and eleven cities before we started this trip. New York was home for nine years, the deepest place we ever planted roots. Kayan has spent just about as much of his life on our around the world journey as he did in New York. While Ava still carries many memories from New York, Kayan’s identity is transient and tied to wherever we are at a particular moment. The more we travel, the more we identify with we each new place. As it becomes easier to fit in it is harder to answer the question, “Where are you from?” I’ve always had slight envy for people who still call the house in which they were born home. We can barely identify ourselves with a country at this point.

A few weeks ago, a women asked if she could interview us an Indian family traveling around the world. She just launched desi globetrotter, an indie travel blog geared for the South Asian traveler, and wanted wanted to share our story with her readers. We were excited to participate but nervous that we wouldn’t come across as Indian enough for her audience. It turned out to be a fun interview because we decided to just be ourselves. Here is the link to the interview. Even though this is a travel site geared towards South Asians, I feel as though it could be a great interview from any cultural perspective. I was starting to get a little worried about our family’s lack of cultural identify when I read about Third Culture Kids.

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” –

What’s interesting is that TCK research finally shed light on why we sometimes don’t feel Indian.

“Many TCKs take years to readjust to their [original] passport countries. They often suffer a reverse culture shock upon their return, and are often perpetually homesick for their adopted country. Many third culture kids face an identity crisis: they don’t know where they come from. It would be typical for a TCK to say that he is a citizen of a country, but with nothing beyond his passport to define that identification for him. TCKs’ sense of identity and well-being is directly and negatively affected by repatriation.”

Sandeep and I are clearly TCKs. Ava and Kayan, as kids of TCKs and world travelers are already cross-culture kids or trans-culture kids. Even though the TCK research gave us a framework to understand our cultural confusions, we don’t yet have an answer to “Where are you from?” I’ve toyed with “earth” and now “I’m a third culture kid” but I suspect those wouldn’t make us any friends. For now, “New York and India and Cape Town” seems as legitimate an answer as anything else.

We continued our chocolate tasting today over a game of scrabble. The rules were that we could put foreign words on the board as long as everyone knew what they meant. Cross cultural scrabble.


Filed under Africa, India, South Africa, Travel With Kids

Living as Real Nomads in Sikkim

When people now ask us where we are from we usually reply that we are nomads. Here is a typical scene of our family, with our bags packed and ready to find a new temporary home.

Nomads are technically “a member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move according to the seasons from place to place in search of food, water, and grazing land.” How many if us really have a fixed home, or a single place where we find all our basic necessities? I’d say that we are all nomadic to some extent. We often work and live in separate places, spend parts of our days in a gym, jump from one restaurant to the next for dinner, maybe even couch surf on occasion. Even if you’re a homebody, chances are you’ve moved several times in your life. When it comes down to it, we all have elements of nomadic life.

While we have been nomadic for the past five months, we took our nomadic lives to the extreme during our five day trek in Sikkim. Our only option to reach Dzongri from Yuksom was by foot through the uninhabited Kanchenjunga National Park.  The Sikkim government prohibits solo trekkers and requires them to be accompanied by guides and porters (not that we would have actually tried to do the trek on our own anyway). To support our nomadic lives in Sikkim, it took a guide, a cook with two helpers/porters, a horseman, and five horses. That entire entourage was just for Sandeep and me. Like extreme nomads, our group spent each night in a new place, found new water sources wherever we were, and managed on the food we carried. Our animals did plenty of grazing.

The horseman made sure the five horses stayed together as they hauled our tent, the kitchen tent (which also doubled as a tent for our five companions), a bathroom tent (as in a tent that surrounds a hole in the ground), our bags, sleeping bags and mats, and the horse food. Sikkim has two types of pack animals, horses and dzos, which are a cross between a cow and a yak. Dzos are easier to breed and purchase, but horses are preferred as they are less prone to wandering and don’t come with the dangerous horns.

Our cook and the two helpers took everything needed for five days of pretty amazing meals. This included a gas tank, a variety of pots and pans, a table and chairs (unnecessary but definitely a bonus after a day of trekking), and the food itself. They churned out meals that included gluten free pizza and steamy soups, all from a single kerosene stove and a couple of pots..


At first Sandeep and I couldn’t understand why we needed an entourage of five people and five pack animals. However, we realized that we used everything that we had taken up the mountains at some point during our trek. We carried all our waste back to dispose of responsibly upon our return to Yuksom.

Traditional nomads travelled in groups and were always accompanied by animals. Our Sikkim trek brought us as close as we’ve ever been to real nomadic existance.

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Filed under Animals, India

Wild Animals in Sikkim

Sandeep and I were both up all night in our freezing tent in Dzongri. We had trekked for three days to a height of 14,000 feet and altitude sickness started to get the better of us. Following the eight our uphill trek that day and very little oxygen, were starting to feel delirious. Our guides, porters and us chose a camping site in a small valley in Dzongri. Our tent (the yellow one), our kitchen tent (blue) and our bathroom tent (green) were the only structures in sight. Here’s the blow by blow starting at about 1 A.M.

Sandeep: D. D… D!!!! Do you hear that?

Diya: Huh, yeah. It sounds like a horse.

Sandeep: It’s not a horse. The horses all wear those bells.

Diya: Well, maybe this is a good horse. Maybe the horseman knows he won’t run away so he let him free without the bell.

Sandeep: I doubt it. Anyway, it’s moving around but I don’t hear it breathing. Don’t horses breathe?

Diya: Yeah. But maybe he’s just relaxing.

Sandeep: Then why is he walking around like that? No it should be breathing. Animals breathe. This one is not breathing.

Diya: Ok, maybe it’s not an animal then.

Sandeep: What is it? It’s moving around. S$!1! It’s borrowing under my head.

Diya: Turn on the torch! Shine the torch at it.

Sandeep: It’s still there. It’s not a good sign that we are pointing a light at it’s face and talking but it’s not scared of us.

Diya: Well, if it’s small enough to burrow and it isn’t scared of us then it’s probably not going to attack.

Sandeep: Do you know that?

Diya: No.

Sandeep: You’re always rationalizing everything. It is not normal for an animal to be around us for so long.

Diya: You’re always paranoid. What do you know about normalcy and animals? Anyway, I still think it’s a grazing horse.

Sandeep: Then why is it burrowing under my head?

This goes on for about an hour while we each accuse each other of being too paranoid and too laid back…

Diya: Listen, if it’s been here for an hour and hasn’t attacked then I am sure it’s not going to. Anyway, the only wild animal here is a snow leopard. But I don’t think snow leopards graze.

Sandeep: Snow leopard? That’s not good. Not good at all.

Diya: Ok, let’s call Thupten (our guide). We’re not getting any sleep.

Sandeep and Diya: Thupten. Thupten! THUPTENNNNNN!!!

Thupten (sounding startled): Yes? Wait, wait. What is it? Are you sick?

Sandeep: Yes, but that’s not why we called you. There is a wild animal here.

Thupten: Inside the tent?

Sandeep: No, outside. Behind our heads I think.

Diya: It’s a horse.

Thupten: There is no wild animal here.

Diya: Is there a horse?

Thupten: No. Are you sure it’s not the wind?


more silence

Sandeep: Huh. Maybe.

Diya: I don’t think it’s the wind. It sounded like it was grazing.

Sandeep: No, it was burrowing.

Thupten rustles our tent cover, which was hardened with ice. Sure enough, it sounds like an animal moving about. He kicked the mat behind our heads and it definitely sounds like an animal burrowing.

Sandeep and Diya: Sorry Thupten.

Sandeep: We’re from the city. We don’t know anything about animals or sleeping in tents.

By this time we were almost at our 4 A.M. wake up to view the sunrise over the mountain range. Sandeep and I stayed up, agreeing we need to work on our outdoorsy skills.


Filed under Animals, India

Trekking to the Top of the World in Sikkim

One of the things we looked forward to about taking this extended break was that we had the time to reach the far corners of the world – places that were too hard to get to and appreciate on a one week vacation. Three flights, four cars, five horses and thousands of steps later, we finally reached one such place – the Sikkimese mountain of Dzongri, in the middle of the Himalayan mountains. Dzongri offers untouched mountain terrain, complete seclusion and a perfect view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak.

We had done overnight trekking in Thailand and Burma, but nothing prepared us for the magnificence or challenge of scaling 14,000 feet up the Himalayas in Sikkim. Nestled between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim is not an easy place to reach. It was a Buddhist Kingdom until 1975, when it became a state of India. The road to Dzongri ends in the tiny town of Yuksom. From there, a narrow mountain trail leads people and their accompanying pack animals into the depths of the mountains. The entire trek is in the Kanchenjunga National Park and is completely devoid of permanent inhabitants. Apart from the path, and a handful of modest trekking huts, the only reminders of human life in these mountains are modest Buddhist stupas and prayer flags.

Perhaps because of its elusiveness, Sikkim is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to. Some refer to it as the last Shangri-La, and we agree. During our hike we went through distinct topography every day, each seemingly competing with the other for beauty. On day one we trekked up to 6,000 feet, through lush green mountains, full of orchid crusted trees and magnolias. We reached 10,000 feet on day two, passing through dense pine forest. One day three we reached Dzongri, at 14,000 feet. Despite the height, Dzongri still has a carpet of red rhododendron bushes surviving among the Himalayan shadows. The trek was absolutely gorgeous at every turn, but it didn’t come without it’s challenges. We crossed three bridges each way, and each tested my extreme fear of heights.

We walked up to eight hours each day, pacing ourselves, hydrating and fueling up with food. We found the first two days relatively easy, and this was probably because we were completely enchanted with the ancient trees, rainbow of flowers and singing birds. Yes, it sounds like something out of a movie, but even Sandeep started calling it the trek to heaven. Once we left the greener altitudes, each step took more and more effort given the high elevation and low oxygen. The terrain the day we reached Dzongri was steep and rocky, and March’s melting snow made the path extremely slippery.

Our campsite in Dzongri seemed extraterrestrial. The earth was almost barren and the looming Himalayas appeared ready to engulf us. We happened to be there when there was no moon, so the only light was from the blanket of stars, which seemed close enough to grab.

Our night in Dzongri tested our wits. It was bitterly cold, and the high altitude pounded at our heads and deprived us of any hope of sleep. At 4 A.M the next morning we made a short trek with our flashlights to the viewpoint to see the sun rise over the snow capped mountains surrounding us. With no sleep and heavy legs, we almost turned back. We’re not ones to wake up for sunrises and we wondered if this was all worth it. Our guide gently nudged us to put one foot in front of the other until we finally reached the summit. The view of the Himalayas in the crisp morning literally took any breath we had left away.

Standing in the shadows of the Himalayas has to be one of the most humbling things for a human to experience in nature. The Himalayan range has brought adventurers from all over the world, and its peaks are considered sacred by Buddhists. Despite watching documentaries and movies that featured mountains such as Everest, nothing prepared us for being face to face with the imposing mountains.


Filed under Health, India

Anyone Can Travel, Just Let Go

Each month, a group of us nomadic families participate in a writing project where we share our ideas on a specific topic. We’ve been chatting about how we respond to people who tell us “I’m so jealous” or “I wish our family could do that” and realized that our answers may be of interest to a wider audience. So March’s writing project is “Anyone Can Travel, All you Have to Do is…”

Let me start by saying not every family should travel. If you can’t handle crowds, if you can’t stand the surprise of a wrongly advertised hotel room, or refuse to go anywhere without a seatbelt, then perhaps extended travel is not for your family. Then again, maybe your family should travel and get a different perspective.

My thoughts are more for those families that know they want to take off on a long adventure but don’t think they can. We reckon that most families resist pulling the trigger because they fear letting go of a life they’ve worked so hard to build. I want to share what were the hardest things for us to let go of, why we did it and what it all means five months into our journey.

Letting go of responsibility

Sandeep and I are the quintessential Asian couple. We followed the path that was expected of us. We got good grades, went to top universities, found each other and settled down early, popped two babies and climbed the ladders at multi-national corporations. We did everything to set a foundation for our family and prepare for our own retirement. However, both of us had a sense of adventure and curiosity that we weren’t able to satiate through our vacations. Our first decade as professionals had flown by and at least another three stretched ahead. We wanted a break from living the life we should to live the life we want. Watching our kids grow up made us realize life goes by fast. Finding out I had multiple sclerosis made us realize that life also take turns we don’t plan. Too many of us take our responsibilities so seriously that we start forgetting the things that really matter such as health, personal connections, or introspection. Every elderly person we meet on the road compliments us, saying that they have all the time now to travel but have lost either the physical ability or the family ties to make it a reality. Their advice and ours is don’t wait until retirement to travel the world. You may not be able to climb the Himalayas or swim in the bluest oceans if you do. And you certainly wont be able to experience these things with your impressionable children. By making the decision to travel, Sandeep and I actually think that we did the most responsible thing we could for our family. We’re navigating the world together and understanding each other on a level we never did at home. Most importantly we have all the time in the world to truly appreciate each other and what makes us a family. We’re not turning our backs on the conventional paths to responsibility, but travel has given us a renewed focus for why it matters.

Letting go of Parenting 101

As New York City type-A parents, we stayed in established neighborhoods, enrolled the kids in a variety of classes and even got them into private school before they could talk. We scheduled meals, nap times, gave them mostly organic foods, played lots of music and very little TV. We provided Ava and Kayan with every opportunity, but they were growing too fast for us to process any of it. It was as if we were leading separate lives, hurriedly squeezing in family time in the evenings and weekends. We wondered if taking this trip would disadvantage our kids. Some people were shocked that we would expose a one- and three-year old to the diseases of the world. So far, all these concerns seem to be routed in fear not reality. The kids have been healthier on this trip (despite licking floors and playing with the earth) than they ever were at home. When we have needed health care, such as in Kuala Lumpur, we have found it to be of higher quality service than in New York City. And despite visiting ten countries, the kids have only required one non-routine vaccine. Our family has been a single unit over the past five months and we’ve become intimately familiar with each others’ gifts and neuroses. The biggest benefit to all of this is that we as parents have an infinite platform to educate our children about our world. We’ve laid under the Indian sky teaching the kids about constellations. Ava now loves finding Orion’s belt in every new country. By the end of our trip Kayan will know a zebra, lion and rhinoceros because he saw them in the wild, not because he was shown them in a book. After three months in India the kids understand our heritage in a way they never could have at home. Our experiences on the road has brought us closer to our children and them closer to each other. Sandeep and I would like nothing more than for that do define our success as parents.

Letting go of our desks

As parents in our 30’s, we were focused on wealth accumulation and defending whatever nest egg we had already built. Letting go of a job when the global economy is unsteady may seem like a stupid move. However, let’s put things in perspective. Most of us spend at least forty years working. With retirement age expanding, that number may be closer to 50 for our generation. We’d argue that taking a year off, even in a tough economy, is a rounding error in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, by focusing on a career a few years at a time, we were missing the broader movements in our shifting world. As U.S. professionals spending time in India and China we can confidently say that our relative positions in the business world will be drastically different going forward. Traveling has given us the opportunity to experience this on the ground, and to learn from and build a network with our counterparts globally. Extended travel has also given us time to work on skills that will help us professionally. I’ve had the chance to write for Huffington Post and Conde Nast, which has pushed me to be a better communicator. Interacting with people of different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, and navigating through uncertain situation builds confidence as a leader regardless of profession. A doctor gains better bed side manners, an investment advisor better understands economic shifts and an educator can apply new ways of teaching and learning. Yes, we can succeed by working hard, going to the right schools and stacking years of experience. However, what differentiates leaders is their ability to consume diverse perspectives, negotiate different viewpoints, inspire and mange others through uncertain conditions and times of change. The confidence gained from maneuvering a family through multiple countries, cultures, logistics, political situations, housing conditions, health care systems, and hygiene levels will make you a stronger person, a better professional in the long run and a true leader.

Letting go of familiar grounds

We all have things that ground us – routines, personal and professional networks, families. It’s daunting to let go of these things to face the unknowns that come with long term travel. What we have found is that by figuring our new comforts and routines as we go, we have become better people and a tighter family. The four of us depend on each other a lot more than we did at home. Yes, little annoyances become magnified under these conditions, but small accomplishments are also jointly celebrated. Sandeep and I are forced to deal 24 hours a day with the things that irritate us about each other. It was a hard adjustment at first, but we are more honest with each other as a result. Kayan first two-foot jump was on the beach in Penang and all four us were there to cheer. Because Ava has seen the extremes of open sewers and pristine mountains, she knows not to litter or to pluck flowers. The kids know how a chicken is raised, how fish are caught and that fruits and vegetables come from the ground and not grocery shelves. They could have been taught all this at home, but they have lived it on the road. We do miss our friends and family, but in this digital age we’re not too far behind on each others’ lives. Many of our friends and family love to travel as much as we do and have people visiting us in seven different countries. That gives us a chance to become closer to them as well.

What you gain… 

Once we hit the road we immediately realized that we traded in our full lives for richer ones. Instead of setting our alarms to get to work, we set it for things like giving alms to 12,000 monks in Chiang Mai. Instead of limited family time, we have the luxury of lazing together. We’re not saying life on the road is perfect or that we never miss certain comforts of home. Sometimes things don’t work. Other times we just can’t get what we want – the only available diaper brand leaks, the coffee is not strong enough, no one speaks English, nothing on the menu is gluten-free – but we adjust as a family. We spend every day now learning about our world with our children. We’re more connected to each other but also realize how connected we are to the rest of mankind and our natural world. We knew this on a superficial level before our journey and live it every day now. We are  learning what it means to be responsible and adaptable global citizens.

Do you dream about extended travel? What prevents you from letting go?Read what other traveling families have to say about realizing their nomadic dreams.

Anyone Can Travel by Bohemian Travelers

Diet Shouldn’t Stop You from Traveling by Livin’ On the Road

Not Everyone Can Travel by Living Outside of the Box

Only the Very Special, Lucky, Rich, and Perfect (Like Me) Can Travel by Nomadic Family

Anyone Can Travel Why Don’t You by Walkington Travels

Anyone Can Do This by Experiential Family

Not Everyone Can Travel by Living Outside of the Box

You Have to be Special Like us if You Want an Awesome Life by Discover Share Inspire

True Story: Single mother from Bushwick, Brooklyn, funds long-term trip without having to sell a kidney by Break Out of Bushwick

You Can Make it Happen Too by Growing Grace Life

Why Anyone Can Travel by Family Trek

Travel – Possible? by Wandering Photographer

Even Solo Mamas on Government Handouts Can Travel by Solo Mama Travels

A Family Travel Lifestyle is More than Just Luck by Little Aussie Travellers

Anyone Can Travel Can’t They by New Life on the Road


Filed under India, Travel With Kids, Traveling Family Writing Projects

Goodbye Goa

We are spending two and a half months in India, more than any other country we are visiting on our journey. India claimed our attention for two main reasons. First, we wanted to experience more of our heritage and expose Ava and Kayan to the rich culture. Second, we wanted to spend time with extended family, which we don’t do during our rushed trips over the holidays. Our two main hubs were Kerala, where Sandeep’s parents are, and Goa, where my parents live.

Bidding farewell to Goa closes out the extended family portion of our journey. We’ll miss many things about this laid back coastal state. Most of all, we’ll miss family.

We’ve travelled to many beautiful places and have natural wonders ahead of us. However, we’ll feel nostalgic when we think of the day progressing in my parent’s backyard.

We’ll also miss the laid back attitude of Goa, which is particularly evident on our island of Divar, where the ferry is the only means of reaching home. It’s also where neighbors sit on their front porches in the evenings, watching the people go by and catching up on village news.


Ava and Kayan attended a wonderful morning pre-school school. They made friends “and they speak English too!” says Ava. The school was instrumental in getting Kayan potty trained.

Luckily for us, we’re not the only adventurous ones in our family. Both sets of parents plan to meet us in Africa and we’ll continue our connections with our families elsewhere in the world. However, there are somethings that can only be recreated here in Goa.

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Farm to Table Eating in Goa

The closest thing we had to a farm in New York City was the one hardy basil plant on our kitchen windowsill. Here in Goa, my parents have an entire fruit and vegetable garden begging to be devoured. The land in these parts of Goa is believed to have been volcanic, resulting in soil that is richly fertile. One of the hypotheses of why Goans are so laid back is that we never had to work for our food. The oceans and rivers brim with fish and vegetation seems to grow wherever one throws a seed.

In addition to the mangoes that fill our giant tree, other fruit include papayas, pineapples, bananas and jackfruit. In addition to a small rice paddy that supplies a few sacks of red rice each year, there is a line of coconut trees that keeps us hydrated. A vegetable garden grows long beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and bushes of leafy greens. The herb garden has everything from peppercorns to cinnamon and chilies to galangal.

After a long break from cooking, I was tempted enough by the produce to make us a noodle dish. I’m unsure of whether to classify this as Vietnamese or Thai, but it was fresh, summery and delicious. Here is the recipe.

2 lemongrass stalks, sliced about and inch thick*
1 inch galangal, peeled and sliced thick*
3 stalks green onions, sliced fine*
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 pound of long beans, cut into 2 inch pieces*
1/2 pound okra, cut into 2 inch pieces *
1/2 pound of tofu, cut into one inch cubes
handful of holy basil*
lime wedges to serve

*I used ingredients from our garden.

Brown the tofu in oil and set aside. Stir fry the lemongrass, galangal, green onions and garlic until the aromas start to make you salivate (about three minutes). Then add the long beans and tofu, along with a mixture of the fish sauce and brown sugar. Cover this and let it simmer for about five minutes. Add prepared rice or bean noodles (follow packet directions, but this usually involves soaking noodles briefly in hot water to soften) and stir fry for a few minutes until flavors are mixed. Turn off the fire, stir in the holy basil and serve fresh with lime wedges.

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Investment Consulting Lessons From Goa

I was supposed to be a doctor. At least that’s what my maternal grandmother wanted and asked for every day we spent together. Instead I’m an investment consultant, advising institutions on money matters. I’ve been in the field my entire career and always felt as if it were a natural thing for me to do. After spending a couple of weeks with my grandmother, I now suspect I have been genetically programmed.

To understand my conclusion, I need to tell you a little about my Nani. When she graduated high school she declared she wanted to be a doctor. Her parents refused, insisting marriage and a career were mutually exclusive and they wanted her married. In defiance, she refused to attend college at all, instead focusing her time on playing tennis, the piano and getting into stocks and bonds. Now 97, Nani eagerly awaits the morning paper to track her investments. Her eyesight is so bad that the tickers blob together, but somehow by the end of the morning she knows where things stand.  She may not have a college degree, but the skill she has in growing money rivals the abilities I’ve gained from any degree or credential.

The investment field is full of supposed oracles, theories and guides. Nani doesn’t have too much to add to that mix, but she certainly exemplifies what many investors preach but don’t practice.

First, invest for the long term. And I mean really long term. Nani talks about stocks she’s held for 30 years as if they are my cousins. She knows these companies inside out. This morning she was grilling us about Honda – what’s their newest model? Why did they choose to name the car Brio? Is it really going to sell in India? This commitment allows her to fully understand what she’s investing in and the ability to know whether a company is changing for the better.

Second, don’t get too fancy. In true Warren Buffett fashion, Nani only invests in things she understands. She gets industries, consumer goods and health care She found out we just got our typhoid shots, which were manufactured by GSK. She launched into a long description of every drug and product it makes. By contrast, she still has to grasp the concept of a computer so technology doesn’t play much of role in her portfolio. However, this afternoon Ava and Kayan decided to unload their toy box onto Nani’s lap. Then Kayan moved onto his daily fill of the iPad. She observed Kayan for a while and then asked, “Diya, who makes that computer?”

Third, invest in people. India may have over a billion people, but I think there is only three degrees of separation between us. If Nani doesn’t know the top management of the companies she owns, she makes it a point to find someone who can give her insight. She’s a strong believer in integrity and hard work and wants to make sure the people in charge of her money hold the same values. Yesterday’s papers had a story about the succession plan for one of her largest holdings. After reading the article, Nani started on about man at the helm, who he had married, how he became a widow and the family he subsequently raised and trained to take over the business.

She may not have been a doctor, but she sure makes a good investor.


Filed under India

A Role Model for Ava

We’ve been thinking a lot about gender roles on this trip. As parents of a strong willed girl, we want to make sure she has the same opportunities as her male counterparts no matter where in the world we are. However, many cultures, particularly Asian ones, continue to have strong traditional gender roles. All of these roles have a historical reason and context and we do our best to explain them to Ava. We also have strong female personalities in our family that serve as wonderful role models to remind Ava that she can be anything she wants in life. One of them is Dida, my paternal grandmother. She excelled at whatever she put her mind to, including in her career as a teacher.

Even at 86 Dida is eager to learn new things. She realized that she needed to master the internet to be more connected with her grandkids. So she bought a computer and learnt to email, Skype and send egreetings. She even taught us how to conference people on Skype. I showed her an iPad, which she mastered within minutes.

She loves to cook. Cooking for family is usually enough to satisfy many women, but Dida wanted to take her skills to a new level. She published a cookbook, which is now the authority on the Goan cuisine. It also includes a comprehensive review of the role food plays in Goan culture. She’s a talented writer and her stories have been published in magazines and newspapers around the country.

My grandfather was a naval officer and the family was often posted to remote places. To keep entertained and create a sense of community, Dida produced and directed plays. She even taught herself to sew and created the costumes. This talent paid off for us grandkids when she handmade our outfits and stuffed animals. Here is my dad, at just about Kayan’s age, in a neat little two piece.

Dida likely achieved these things because she had curiosity, determination and a slightly competitive streak. All of these attributes are important in a person, and I would argue the last is particularly important in a woman. The only downside is playing Scrabble with Dida. She turns from sweet grandmother to ruthless competitor. We never let her keep score.



Filed under India

Life on the Goa Ferry

There is a great debate on the island of Divar. One fraction of the population wants to build a bridge connecting the mainland. The other wants to preserve the ferry system, currently the 15 square kilometer island’s only access to the rest of Goa.

With its oceans, creeks and backwaters, Goa relies on its waterways as much as its roadways. Ferry service used to be an integral means for getting around in many parts of Goa. Over the years, most ferry connection has been replaced by bridges, but not without consequences on the culture. 

Ferry service forces pedestrians, scooters and cars, as well as all delivery, to meet on the boat before disembarking on the Divar. This congregation allows Divarkars to interact and brings any visitors out into the public eye. As one of our neighbors said, “Without the ferry, how will we know who our neighbors are?” Largely as a result of the ferry, people only come to Divar to go home or visit someone who lives here. Due to this element of isolation, Divar retains the charm of a bygone era.  The architecture here remains decidedly Portuguese, with whitewashed facades and decorative tiles. Residents still respect the age old rule of thumb that no structure, save for the churches, be built taller than a coconut tree. Its 5,000 residents know each other on a first name basis and many are distant relatives. 

Apart from playing a practical and social role, the ferry is also the perfect way to be forced to spend time on tranquil water. After a day in town I love nothing more than stepping out of the car and into the open air of the Mandovi River. Coracles searching for catfish dot the water, on one side I see the mangroves of Divar shielding any evidence of humanity, and on the other I see the well preserved 16th century Portuguese churches of Old Goa towering above the coconut trees.

The jovial ferry operators have mastered the skill of packing people and vehicles in a game of oversized Tetris.  In close quarters, the riders socialize. My father met the island chef and arranged for him to come and do a barbecue for us. We ran into the sarpanch (similar to a mayor) and started talking about the recent elections. Ava and Kayan even arranged for a play date.

In our opinion, it would be very sad to see ferry service replaced by a bridge. For starters, the island of Divar is sure to lose its old village feel once it is more accessible. Traffic will reduce our ability to walk around the narrow streets with relative ease. And yes, as our neighbor says, we will stop knowing each other and picking up where we left off on the last ferry ride.

Logistics: The ride between Divar and the Old Goa dock takes all of three minutes, with departures every 15 minutes on either side. The ferry stops this schedule between midnight and 6 A.M. but if we need a ride and the ferry is docked on the opposite bank, we simply flash our car lights and the boat makes a special trip. The ride is free to pedestrians and scooters and cars pay 7 rupees (about 13 cents). If the ferry makes a special charter then the charge is 55 rupees (about $1). If the ferry system goes, I’m not sure there is anywhere else in the world we can find a yield sign with a picture of a rowboat. 

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