Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We buried my dad today.  The cemetery had been closed for the winter, and has recently reopened. As a kid, I never remember it closing--my grandmother died in February, and I recall other bitterly cold burials as well.  This closing in the winter must be a recent thing.   If you are on the receiving end of this (meaning you are a mourner) it is decidedly strange to have the funeral and the burial so far apart.   Dad has been gone for more than two months now, and emotionally, the last thing I wanted at this point was  another funeral.  So we kept it private.  

The main thing for me was the satisfaction of knowing that Dad finally returned to East Tawas.  (This is a technicality, but the funeral home where the casket was stored until the burial is in the neighboring city of Tawas City, and the cemetery is in East Tawas, where Dad, and later I, was raised.)  He definitely would have liked that part.  In India he barely knew where he was, though sometimes in more lucid moments he would say that longed to go back.  But he never said to "Tawas"  which is always where I say I am from, which is the two towns combined.  It was always "East Tawas."   During his active years, I recall Dad supporting--or at least, not opposing-- the idea of a merger between the two cities,  but in the end, his allegiance was still to the one that he had been raised in. 

Other than returning him to his "native place", as it would be called in India, I wish I could say that the burial gave me any additional closure--but it really didn't.  At times, it is still hard to believe that Dad is gone.  Other times, it seems like a long time since he has died.    Despite his now final resting place in the hometown he loved, buried between my mother and his mother, I can't help feel that Dad is out exploring some distant galaxy, or perhaps in a salon with Emily Dickinson.  His feet were firmly planted in Northern Michigan, but his interest and imagination knew no boundaries.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Trip to India

I went back to India.  My sister-in-law has been there since January, her fourth year of teaching in Chennai during the winter months.  This time I stayed with her in a very nice little apartment in Nungambakkam, instead of the other way around.  She had taken a temporary membership at the Madras Club, so even got to swim in their gorgeous and chlorine free pool a few times!   The mosquitoes were bothering her terribly, but they hardly touched me.  Guess my blood was too thick from the cold weather... (in the picture you can see Roberta with her ubiquitous and trusty mosquito zapper!) 

Very little in Chennai had changed in the 14 months since I had last been there, though I immediately noticed the lack of hoardings (except political ones, of course) that had resulted from a recent court ruling.  The overpass near the airport and Guindy was finally complete.  Other than this, during my 12 day stay, I often felt like I was in a time warp--as if I had never left.   

The trip provided a welcome respite from Michigan winter, and it was great to see everyone again.  Roberta and I took a trip over to Cochin and Munnar.  I had been to Cochin a couple of times, but never to Munnar, a hill station about 3 hours from the airport.   I have posted the photos from this trip on Flickr (above) and a selection on Facebook as well.  It rained while we were there, and the lush greens of the tea plantations came out marvelously.  Roberta was anxious to take photos of "ladies picking tea" and we were not disappointed.  On the day we toured the area, we passed  a group having a morning tea break, and then later on a group that was picking in the rain--complete with their rain garb.  

I had been to Darjeeling before, and expected Munnar to be similar in terms of the tea estates.  But there were important differences.  Like Darjeelling, tea had been introduced to Munnar by the British.  But we looked in vain for the high grade and "tender tip"  tea that I had found in Darjeeling.  Munnar is at a lower elevation--the highest plantation is about 7000 ft above sea level--and the really high grade tea grows at elevations above this.  Still, the tea was very good.  The plus about Munnar was the spice plantations.  We toured one, and saw nutmeg trees, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla beans, all being grown and harvested.  The vanilla plants were particularly interesting because vanilla is pollinated by the hummingbird, which isn't found in India.  Therefore, pollination is done manually, and is quite an intricate and delicate process (as you might imagine from contemplating how small the beak of a hummingbird must be....)  At a fraction of the price you would find in the U.S., I bought spices and brought them back (you need to declare them but Customs was quite accommodating).