Exodus Part II: The Promised Hotel

When we left off, our hero (me obviously, not Ben) was in a van headed to a Mumbai hotel. The moment I arrived, two bellhops whisked my heavy bags from my hands and I knew my night was finally taking a turn for the better. Within ten minutes, I was relaxing in my beautiful, air-conditioned room on the 15th floor of the JW Marriott. It’d normally be called the 6th floor, as the hotel skipped floor numbers 2 through 10, but I agree with the hotel designer that the 15th floor definitely sounds swankier.

Room 1515, my luxurious home for my three days stuck in Mumbai. Many of you already saw this because I sent it as a boasting response to anybody who asked how I was doing.

And then there was the free food. My sister pointed out that a large buffet was not exactly good COVID-19 infection control, but by then I’d already enjoyed it twice. And to be honest, a slight risk of death wasn’t going to keep me from three free hotel buffets a day anyway. My sister had also suggested I leave my prized collection of electronics cords behind to make room in my suitcase for a pair of sneakers, but now I was completely vindicated. By daisy-chaining cords around the room I was able to splice my Chromecast and Google Home into the hotel’s TV and internet and create a quality entertainment system.

Streaming Ozark while enjoying the luxurious tub and accompanying scented bath salts.

After three days of mostly relaxing (plus a little blogging– you’re welcome), we repeated the arduous trek through the Mumbai airport. This time, however, we successfully boarded the plane. Most of “the 37” had been upgraded to higher seating classes, but I chose not to be bitter and appreciate that at least I was going home and on an aisle for the nearly 17-hour flight.

Even before takeoff, I felt closer to home, as the flight attendant in my section definitely had a little attitude, rather than the typical Indian service industry deference. She was wearing a comfortable-looking Delta t-shirt instead of her dress uniform and shouted at a guy coughing in the aisle to put his mask on and sit down. She confided in the couple sitting across from me that she had sworn off doing these repatriation flights after the last one because they were such a nightmare. I’m thankful she changed her mind, because I turns out we weren’t out of the woods yet. The coughing guy wasn’t the only one still standing, and if we didn’t take off in the next few minutes, the pilots were going to hit their work-hour limit before we could get to Atlanta. To avoid this, the flight attendant heatedly told one woman she could sit in her assigned seat or stay in Mumbai, then another that it was one baby per lap and her husband was going to have to hold a child (thank god I wasn’t in that row). With 11 minutes to spare, the doors closed and we were, at last, headed home. Woohoo!

The flight was mostly uneventful. There was a line of elderly Indian gentleman waiting in line for the rest room through the entirety of the 17-hour flight, which made me glad they weren’t serving booze. And pro tip: Don’t watch “The Hate You Give” in a place where you can’t touch your face and don’t want everybody to know you’re crying.

Arriving in Atlanta was the easiest cruise through customs I ever experienced. While I had my temperature taken six times to leave India, I didn’t even fill out a customs form to enter the U.S. Unfortunately, this meant I now had about six hours to kill before my Southwest flight to Philly, two of them outside security, and apparently someone at the Atlanta airport had decided that chairs outside of security were a COVID-19 risk factor and removed them all. So I spent the next two hours savoring a Crossain’wich and coffee while sitting on a sculpture/tree planter. Aside from the prophylactic chair removal, it was pretty shocking how much more casually the US appeared to be taking the pandemic than India. Lots of employees at the airport and even the flight attendants on my flight to Philly weren’t wearing masks.

The stark difference between flight attendants on my Air India domestic flight from Hyderabad to Mumbai and my Southwest flight from Atlanta to Philly.

Nearly 33 hours after leaving the hotel in Mumbai (and almost five days after departing Hyderabad), my sister pulled up to the curb at the eerily empty Philly airport to greet me. She graciously agreed to host me despite my buffet-related risk taking. And I thought I could pay her back with use of my cords and electronics, but had forgotten that’s what I’ve given her for every occasion for years (I’m currently 2 1/2 months late on her 2020 birthday gift, so feel free to send suggestions that involve neither cords nor buffets).

Here at home, it is a relief to finally feel cool again (temperature-wise, that is, since I was definitely cooler in India). Am also extremely glad to be able to buy beer again, though I’m a little sad to be missing out on my Indian friends’ attempts to make their own alcohol. Also, while it’s great to have my editor on site to bounce blog ideas back and forth, I definitely don’t recommend being present to see the frowny face she makes when confronting a particularly awkward sentence. But fear not, loyal readers, despite my being back in the boring old USA, I have a huge backlog of India stories and plenty of time to blog them, so Baumerisms will continue blathering on.


The axiom “you always want what you can’t have” definitely holds true for me. The moment India shut down international flights on March 22, I decided I should go home. I wanted to avoid being indefinitely stuck in India, unable to get home, so I signed up with STEP, a program for reporting your location abroad to receive travel alerts and messages from the U.S. State Department.

Four days later, I received a link to a Microsoft form to fill out if I was interested in a repatriation flight. (Yeah, apparently Microsoft has a Google forms competitor, who knew?) I submitted my info with no response except an almost identical email that arrived every day for the next two weeks, requesting my information if I hadn’t sent it and asking me to sit tight if I had. Finally, I cracked and violated their instructions not to call the embassy. I was connected with a very youthful employee back in the U.S. who asked if I had tried booking a commercial flight. When I explained that the airport was shut down and I was calling about the repatriation flights, he suggested the government probably couldn’t fly me out if the airports were closed.

The increasingly infuriating email I received every day while waiting for a repatriation flight.

Desperate for information, it finally occurred to me to search Facebook. The group Americans Stuck In India turned out to be incredibly useful. I finally got an email address that connected me to the hero of our story, Ben. Ben is an incredibly nice guy actually working at the U.S. consulate in Hyderabad who assured me that the State Department was doing everything they could to get me (and everyone else) out. He didn’t even make fun of my increasingly dramatic emails. (Someone get him a medal or something.)

From those repetitive mass emails, I knew that the last scheduled flight out of Hyderabad was on April 10. That day arrived with no word, so I called my boss to figure out what I should work on for the next week and resigned myself to riding out the next sweaty, locked-down month in India. In keeping with my favorite misinterpretation of taoism, the moment I shed my expectations, good things happened. Two hours after our phone conversation, an email arrived saying I had a spot on a flight on April 12. I had less than two hours to return a three-page form to confirm my seat. I packed what belongings would fit in the one checked bag and one carry-on I was allowed, and told my friends over a good-bye video chat that they could split up everything I left behind.

With my letter from the embassy as a travel pass, my friend Neehar drove me to the nearby hotel the consulate was using as a staging point. From there, us evacuees were bussed to the embassy. We were asked to avoid talking to the press and keep the shades on the bus closed, for fear that it would start rumors that everyone with American residency was fleeing India. At the airport, a guy in a hazmat suit took my temperature. The shops were all closed inside, but on the positive side, there were plenty of seats in the airport and our plane left on time.

Despite the 100°F heat, the guy working the thermal camera was in a full hazmat suit.
All shops in the airport were closed. We had been warned to bring our own food.
Chairs are hard to come by at HYD so getting a lounger was a treat.

Things started to go less smoothly, however, when we got to the airport in Mumbai. The line to get into the international terminal was long and the air was hot and humid. Ominously, a murder of crows swirled above our heads. Once inside the airport, the air was only hotter as their was no a/c and no breeze and I was really starting to sweat. And we’re not talking a light sheen, this was Patrick Rafter after five sets in the Australian Open, looks like I fell in a pool, sweat. My dampness led the check-in lady to ask me if I was ok, and the customs guy to tell me to calm down. Finally at the gate, I reached into my bag to see if I had something to fan myself with and all I could find was a Haggadah (a small Jewish religious text). This being right after Passover, I figured God would be sympathetic to a guy on a hot, arduous journey home, so I went for it.

The ominous murder of crows circling overhead at Mumbai airport.

Perhaps I was wrong about that, as things went downhill from there. An airline employee somehow opened the wrong door of the plane and triggered an evacuation slide. For some reason this meant they could not seat anyone in the last eight rows of the plane, where of course, yours truly’s seat was assigned. The affected passengers surged toward the desk while the employees shouted that we needed to maintain social distancing and sit down. After extracting a promise from the woman at the desk that the few available seats would be assigned randomly, I followed instructions and sat down. Of course, the seats were quickly given to the angry people who refused to sit down (sorry, I mean the ones with terribly pressing reasons why they couldn’t be stranded in Mumbai). The rest of us (who affectionately began calling ourselves the 37) were promised food and lodging at a nearby hotel, and a new flight to Atlanta in three days.

Unfortunately, to get to that hotel, we needed to go back through customs. At the exit, our passports were taken and we were told to wait. A hot and sweaty 45 minutes later, I sat on the airport floor thinking things could not possibly get worse, when the airport was flooded with mosquitos. Another 45 minutes later, our passports were returned. After a series of queues to record our names and passport numbers into multiple identical-looking giant ledgers (it’s amusing to picture the enormous government warehouses that must be required to store all these ledgers), at 1:30 am, we finally were bundled into minivans headed for the hotel. Join us next time for Exodus: Part II The Promised Hotel.


I’ve gotten a lot of questions about life in India under the lockdown, so I thought it was worth a post. Happily, I can report my experience of lockdown resembles most people’s all over the world in being extremely freaking boring.

Lockdown actually started for me a week earlier than it did for the rest of India. On my way to work one morning, a random white guy getting out of his car coughed directly on me without covering his mouth. And at the time that some U.S. officials were calling it the Chinese coronavirus, in India it was basically considered the Italian virus. So while I didn’t know if this random white guy was Italian, he easily could have been, so it was pretty alarming, to me and the coworkers I told. By the next Monday, I was feeling pretty under the weather (almost certainly the result of a vicious two-day hangover) so in an abundance of caution I was told to work from home for the week.

Little did I know I had been to work for the last time. The next Sunday, the prime minister ordered a one-day trial lockdown. At the end of the day, we were instructed to go out on our porches to bang pots and pans and cheer on health care workers. This was quickly followed by an announcement that the lockdown would be extended for two weeks. There was now a curfew between 7 pm and 6 am, we were restricted to staying within 3 km of our homes, and we were not to go out except for essential errands.

A shot of the sun setting over a deserted Mumbai. I realize this shot jumps ahead a little in the story, but it’s way cooler than any shot I had of deserted Hyderabad.

One of the larger personal effects of the lockdown was that my maid/cook could no longer come to my apartment. Having to spend the next few weeks relearning how to do laundry, dishes, and mop a floor will hopefully soften the transition of my eventual return to the U.S. Also the substitution of bowls of cereal for my amazing South Indian breakfasts led to an impressive seven-pound weight loss in the first week. Some of that might also have been water weight, since I had no A/C and, with the lockdown in place, no way of buying one as the temperatures climbed.

The pros of not starting every day with a carb-heavy South Indian breakfast, though this could also be a graph of the tastiness of my breakfast.

Violating the lockdown was definitely not advised. Our company initially tried to continue our in-home medical testing as an essential service, but then one of our phlebotomists was beaten by the police and the Chief Minister of the state told the press, “If people will not listen to the police, I will ask for army deployment, and shoot-at-sight orders will be issued.” (He also instructed the director of the police to arrest anybody who mocked the balcony-clapping on social media, but thankfully neither of these things happened). And while as a white foreigner I was unlikely to be beaten, shot, or arrested, a group of tourists who took a walk were sentenced to write “I am very sorry” 500 times. I know that all sounds pretty dire, but for me, things were still pretty cushy: After the initial chaos, food delivery was restored (as was our phlebotomy services) and I had my virtual reality room to go basically anywhere without ever leaving the house.

Substitute me for Priyank and this is pretty much my lockdown experience. The weird music is because I couldn’t figure out how to make a Youtube video without audio and my Mac is too old to remove the random static from the recording. I’m truly a tech whiz.

I was in no way worried for my health or safety (and I hope that the lockdown will be effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in India). But the rising temperature of my apartment, the demise of my plans to travel in and around India, and the uncertainty of when I’d ever be able to get a flight home to be with my family led me to decide to try to get on a U.S. repatriation flight. So tune in next time for the exciting next chapter of this story: Exodus.


33 inches of rain fell in Hyderabad this year. That’s 845 mm (if you share my boss Karan’s radical pro-metric-system views). Or about the annual rainfall of Detroit, Michigan (if you are like my sister and prefer comparisons to random midwestern American cities to either measurement system). Of that rain, 24 inches (610 mm/Fargo, ND) fell between July 12 and September 30. A full 9 inches (225 mm/Albuquerque, NM) fell in my birthday week alone. (Pro tip: don’t try to walk to the bar for your monsoon-season birthday, even if it’s nearby and it’s not raining when you set out.)

Here’s a typical weather report for monsoon season.

The monsoon is actually a tremendously welcome relief from both the intense heat and the brutal drought that summer brings. It does create some challenges getting around, as streets routinely flood, and I frequently had to roll up my pant legs and wade through a foot of water (300 mm/Boise, ID) on the way home from work.

It’s hard to capture in a photo how hard it’s raining, but let me assure you it is really coming down.

The rain typically comes in a relatively short burst each day in the late afternoon or early evening. Suddenly, in the office we’ll hear the loud drumbeats of heavy rain, and we’ll head out onto the balcony to take a break and watch it pour for a bit. The usual break-time activity of walking five minutes (350 m/not applicable) to our favorite chai stall for two samosas and a ginger chai (for what I’m told is a rather pricey $0.30/₹20/a gumball?) is completely out of the question.

I’ll end with a quick shout-out to the Indian government for their wonderful public datasets on both rainfall and reservoir levels, without which this post would have had many fewer numbers. Due to the uneven seasonal distribution of the rain, water management is a huge issue here (more on that in a later post). It’s really great that they’ve made all this data publicly available and easy to use.

Maqtha Art District

The Hyderabad art museum might be spookily empty (a subject for another post), but the city’s best art exhibit is packed with life. Winding through a neighborhood of tiny alleys filled with bikes, autos, cows and tons of people, a tour of the Maqtha Art District is part art appreciation, part scavenger hunt.

I leave it to the reader to decide whether the warning not to pee on the wall is art or not.

My colleague Priyank had read about the district online, but there were few details available, so we typed “Maqtha” into a ride-hailing app and crossed our fingers. We wandered aimlessly for a while after we were dropped off and were relieved to finally spot our first mural. Miraculously, with this first mural, we had also randomly stumbled upon a key tool in our quest– a map. For those of you less willing to trust to chance, the map can be found in the back corner of this parking lot.

The map does not exactly align with Google Maps or the physical world, but what kind of scavenger hunt would this walk be if it were that straightforward?

With the map and a few hours of wandering, we managed to find all but two of the murals. (You can view the full album here if you’re not coming to Hyderabad anytime soon to see the art in person.) Having successfully completed our quest, we struck our best Superman poses and headed to a nearby food court.

Maid in India

I worry that India may have irredeemably spoiled me. As any of you who’ve ever visited my home know, I have zero inclination toward cleaning or chores in general. It’s now been months since I’ve done laundry or washed dishes. And don’t worry, Mom, that’s not because I’m wearing dirty clothes while piling up an enormous stack of dishes in the sink. I have a maid.

Anantha in the kitchen preparing lunch. And no, I don’t remember why I put so much milk in my iced coffee, that’s obviously not how I normally drink it.

Anantha comes 6 days a week from a little before 9 am to 10:30 am. She cleans the apartment (Indian apartments get dusty at a remarkable speed), washes the dishes, and does the laundry. She also cleverly volunteered to make me lunch a couple of times, which led me to realize she’s a vastly better cook than I am. So I hired her to do the cooking as well. She makes breakfast and a curry which I usually eat for lunch and dinner. It’s all South Indian food, and it’s incredibly delicious. Though I occasionally wish it came with an instruction manual. How are you supposed to eat something the consistency of soup when your only utensil is puffy bread? And what am I supposed to do with the yogurt? The food is also incredibly spicy. A few weeks ago, I had a Western guest visiting so I asked Anantha to make lunch less spicy. As we ate, I quickly realized from my guest’s face both that she doesn’t really do mild and that I’ve completely lost my ability to tell what is hot. (I don’t know how my mom is going to survive when she comes to visit in December.)

My mom probably won’t believe this either, but being waited on has taken some getting used to, like how Anantha insists on calling me “sir.” But it’s delightful never having to worry about cooking and cleaning. And my friends assure me that it’s a reasonably well-paying job that she’s glad to have. I also donate something for her son’s schooling, which is apparently fairly common practice. She’s 24 years old. Her English doesn’t extend much beyond talking about groceries (and my Telugu is nonexistent), so we haven’t really gotten to know each other. I’ve realized I’m terrible at communicating in simple English. The other day she asked if her daughter could have a bowl of cereal and I responded “No worries.” When she looked very surprised, I realized that of course she had understood that as a no. However, she’s extremely friendly and laughs at my constant thank yous any time she hands me something.

My favorite breakfast she’s made so far is poori (the delicious fried dough in the foreground) which is served with a potato and carrot curry that is unbelievable.

She also brings her daughter along (who is maybe 3 years old), and her son (about 6?) when he’s not in school. It’s really nice to have happy, goofy, young kids running around the apartment in the morning. I decided that explaining I wanted to photograph them for my blog was beyond our communication skills, so you’ll have to just trust me that they are adorable. Her daughter insists on opening the door each morning but isn’t quite strong enough, so Anantha has to secretly give a little extra push above her head where she can’t see.

I’m sure some of you were concerned that with my apartment being so clean, you wouldn’t get a chance to see my boxers lying all over the floor. But do not worry, they now hang outside the front door.

I was going to tell you more, but Anantha is putting a delicious-smelling breakfast down on the table, and obviously I need to thank her and give this food its due attention.

A Dash of Culture

By Indian standards, Hyderabad is a very young city, at a little bit over 400 years old. (I’m working on a history of Hyderabad post, but my editor/sister says I have to work my way up to the drier stuff or I’ll lose all of you loyal readers. As if history is dry?!) So I was quite surprised when I was invited to see a dance performance in the well of a 500+ year old temple–how could it be that old? how would we all fit inside a well and stay dry? But apparently the temple belonged to a village that predated the city and its ancient well was both wide and dry.

I get the impression the lighting doesn’t date back to the original construction of the temple.

On our way we encountered some friends of Neehar’s (actually this happens everywhere we go, making Hyderabad feel more like a small town than a city of 10 million). We asked what brought them to the show, and it turned out to be the small fact that their family had been caretakers of this temple for the last 500 years.

The performance was set up with the dancers in the bottom of the well and the audience seated on broad stone stairs. It featured modern interpretations of a variety of traditional regional dances. One of my favorites involved dancers spinning around at high speed, moving their arms all over while keeping a plate balanced against an open hand. I thought briefly the plates might somehow be attached until one of the dancers faltered and her plate went clattering across the ground. The last dance was the best, featuring fluid moodern interpretations mirrored by the percussive traditional moves that inspired them.

Sorry again for the terrible camera work but I think it still captures a little sense of the awesomeness of seeing a dance performance in the well of a 500-year-old temple surrounded by palm trees.

The dance ended with a speech by the leader of the troop, Mallika Sarabhai, celebrating the diversity of India that led to the variety of dance we’d seen and calling for rejection of the divisive politics of Hindu nationalism. She also invited us to Hyderabad Literary festival the following weekend (where she would give the keynote address).

I decided to accept. The literary festival took place at Neehar’s old school, which hosts literary events and a lot of other random but very interesting talks, on topics like monetary policy and Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nationalism).

At the festival, I went to a poetry reading by a famous Indian actress Shabana Azmi, whose father was the famous Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi. She read a beautiful poem of his and then explained in English that it was about the sadness of a homeless construction worker building a residence that he cannot live in. I went home and looked up a translation (see below). That reminded me that I don’t really understand poetry regardless of the language.

Tonight a searingly hot breeze is blowing,
Tonight on this footpath there will be no sleep
Come let us arise, you and I, and you too, and you
A window in this wall will surely find an opening

To swallow us this earth was even then waiting
When our feet touched the ground from branches breaking
These houses know nothing, those who live in them
Know nothing of the days we spent in caves hiding.

Our hands could not tire, they had become the mould
To make statue after statue for someone else to hold
We made the wall strong, stronger and stronger still
Embellished the roof, gave doorways a strength untold.

Because the wind could so easily extinguish the flame
We gilded the sky with electricity instead
When the palace was built, someone else sat on guard
In squalor we slept with cacophony our bed.

The fatigue of relentless labour in every vein
Images of the palace in our eyes remain
Unending, the day melts on our heads still
Our unslept nights remain just the same.

Other entertainment included a workshop on how to get published during which an angry young author interrogated a publisher and a writing coach about why it’s such an awful process and Mallika Sarabhai ‘s keynote. She ripped into the audience for being armchair liberals who were too comfortable with the status quo to do anything about inequality in India. It was like a little taste of home. (I miss you, fellow angry San Francisco leftists!)

The Village

A lot of my days in India don’t feel that different than being in the U.S. I work for a software firm where everybody speaks English, is obsessed with Game of Thrones, and spends breaks playing table tennis. We talk cricket (Go Sunrisers!) instead of football, but otherwise my average day is pretty average.

This post is not about one of those days. Neehar had been wanting to show me his grandmother’s village for a while, so when she hosted a lunch that he was going to attend, he invited me to tag along. His family’s property is a large farm, two to three hours outside Hyderabad. On arrival, Neehar and I convinced the manager of the farm to take us on a tour. I’m sure the sight of us traipsing for 45 minutes across uneven ground in 115°F heat, wearing flip-flops and not carrying any water, did nothing to disabuse the villagers of their stereotypes of city people.

Lunch was set up under a canopy at the site of the small temple we were there to dedicate.

After that adventure, I learned that we were there not just for an ordinary lunch, but to sacrifice a goat as part of a puja (a prayer-ritual). This would bless a small temple the family had just built. This temple (and our visit) had rapidly come about in response to a waking dream Neehar’s grandmother had in which she was visited by a goddess. She read it as a sign that the goddess was upset by a long unfulfilled promise to dedicate a temple to her.

Friends, family, and neighbors gathered to participate in a puja involving the sacrifice of a goat to dedicate the new temple.

We gathered around the temple and pigment was placed on our foreheads. Then the goat was doused with water and fed a last meal of some sort of fluffy grain and a lightly fermented beverage made of palm sap. At one point the goat shook off some of the water and the audience cheered. Apparently this was a sign that the goddess was pleased. Then the goat was beheaded with a remarkably small knife and its head was placed at the entrance, mouth stuffed with a dismembered hoof.

I decided to spare my more delicate readers any graphic photos of the sacrifice but you can see a bloody handprint beside the doorway from the end of the ceremony.

Like me, Neehar’s city-living niece and nephew (ages 7 and 5) were witnessing their first animal slaughter. There was definitely some amusement from the villagers at their distressed response, so I did my best to play it cool. The kids adapted remarkably fast, eagerly following along as their dad used the subsequent butchering as a hands-on anatomy lesson. Once the goat was butchered, the cooking began. A different dish was made from every part of the goat. The standard mutton curry was definitely my favorite, but the goat brain (consistency like scrambled eggs) and the goat head curry (prominent chunks of skull) were both tasty despite their weirdness.

Lunch was cooked outside in large pots over big fires despite the incredible heat.
This is about half the total number of dishes that were consumed. I was too busy stuffing myself to remember to take a picture until we were all done.

On the ride home, I mentioned my ideas for this post and there was some small concern that I was going to make my friends and their family sound like superstitious country bumpkins. It reminded me a lot of the time I brought a former girlfriend (who was French and living in San Francisco) back home to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. There is definitely a universal commonality to the experience of taking friends to visit your rural origins– acting nonchalant so the hometown folks don’t think you’ve gone soft while worrying that your friends are too citified to appreciate the charms of your coarser past. So I hope that by surviving the heat and eating goat brains, I earned some country cred, but since I still don’t speak any Telugu, I guess we’ll never know.

“Holi Indian Festival, Batman!”

Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates “the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love, and for many [is] a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships,” according to Wikipedia (how else would I find out?). It starts at night with a bonfire, which you pray will burn away your inner evil like it did the sister of some demon king. Sadly, this is another aspect I only just learned from Wikipedia, so I missed the bonfire. I guess my inner evil (and demon sister) will survive another year.

The second day of Holi involves running around throwing colored powders. Apparently it used to be a total free-for-all, with anyone and everyone fair game, and people running in the streets everywhere blasting folks with color and water guns– so kind of like The Purge, but with pretty colors instead of murder. Now the celebrations are mostly contained to specific blocked-off spots.

Unfortunately, the first of these we tried to join had run out of color. People were still having a great time; many had turned to covering each other in mud and there was a foam party, but we were looking for an authentic Holi color experience. When we tried to move on, the staff was incredibly upset that we were leaving without getting appropriately dirty and implored us to wait two minutes for more color to arrive. After another 30 minutes, they still did not want us to leave, not because we were demanding a refund, but because they were horrified we were leaving without having had any fun. They physically blocked the way out, and we eventually just gave up and crawled through a hole in the fence nearby.

The muddy festivities of a Holi celebration that had run out of color.

Some quick googling found us another nearby option. Just in case, this time we stopped at a stall on the street and bought a whole bunch of color. Most color is dry powder that comes in little bags, but for a truly authentic experience Neehar also insisted we pick up a little wet color that came in a small plastic jar.

Our Holi supplies- bags of different colored powders, and peeking out at the top of the image, you can see the ominous red cap of the little jar of wet color.

With only a few more minor difficulties– I bumped into a crowd barrier and set off a chain reaction that took out about 50 feet of fence and we approached the wrong entrance so we had to bribe a guard to get in– we were at last playing Holi! Neehar and I smeared each other and started throwing color at strangers. When we realized those around us were running low on supplies, we gave away half our color and then people began hitting us with color as well, both throwing it at us and smearing it on our faces with wet hands while saying “Happy Holi!”

I was so covered in color that people frequently failed to notice I was white until they got up close. Suddenly I’d see the surprise register in their faces.
No smile, Neehar? I’m going to chalk it up to the responsibility of taking the selfie, because we’re now fully colored and resentment-free.

As you may have guessed from the foreshadowing, the wet color from the jar turned out not to come off in the shower. So both arms and a stripe along my face remained a festive pink for over a week. I blame that on Neehar’s inner evil (he missed the bonfire, too). But in the spirit of the holiday, I’m going to let it go and admit Holi was amazing fun.

P.S. If you’re enjoying the blog and don’t want to miss a post, I added the ability to subscribe in the sidebar on the right. Sign up and you’ll get an email whenever I post something new.

Cafeteria Etiquette

One challenging aspect of living abroad is trying to decide whether things that are new to you are part of the foreign culture or specific to the place you happen to be. Whichever it turns out to be, the lunch room culture at DoctorC is one of my favorite aspects of the new gig.

Everybody shares everything, starting at the top. The CEO, who you may recall is my friend, roommate, and fellow huge fan of food, heats his lunch in the microwave every day. Meanwhile, he wanders the lunch room with a spoon, tasting everybody’s lunch. I’ll admit my first reaction was a little bit of shock and discomfort, thinking this represented the office power dynamic. But now that I’ve seen that nobody hesitates to wander up and grab a bite of his lunch in return, I’ve really come to appreciate the system. I’m pretty sure you can’t walk up behind a San Francisco tech CEO and snag a spoonful of his lunch without asking.

DoctorC strives to be a really social company where everybody feels included and equal. So one of the company policies (in the employee handbook) is that if you see someone sitting alone at lunch, you should join them. Sometimes this comes into conflict with historical employee and class deference. The other day, a maid was sitting by herself and so the CTO sat down next to her. She immediately got up and began to eat her lunch standing in the corner. He finally managed to convince her to come back and sit down, but she did insist on eating at an angle to the table, so that she was basically sitting with her back to the rest of us.

The dining room toward the end of lunch. I go usually around 2 pm when it’s pretty easy to find a seat. And yes, I’m also learning to eat rice with my hands, though I feel kind of like a toddler taking his first uncoordinated steps.

Another great aspect of the lunch room is that there is basically zero food waste and very little trash. Anything you don’t want, you offer up to the room and almost certainly someone will take it. Everyone packs their lunches in reusable containers. After being surrounded by the overflowing trash cans of catered tech lunches in the U.S., it amazes me that 60 people can share a single small trash can for the lunch room.

The only person who may not make out in the system is one of the developers, Esh (his full name is like 8 syllables, and I’ve never actually heard anyone use it). His mom lives with him and is well known to be an amazing cook. It’s not at all surprising to see 6 or 7 people stop by for a bite of whatever Esh has brought for lunch. In preparation for this post I finally asked to try a bite, and I can now confirm that his lunch is delicious.

I’m not sure I’m ready to start grabbing bites without asking, but I did finish off somebody else’s lunch the other day, so I’m making progress.

Edit March 31, 2019: This post was updated to restore the editing my sister kindly adds to each piece that I accidentally overwrote when I published.