Journal — Headed toward Kodaikanal in South India

Starting December 21, 1985 through early January 1986

Introduction: John and I were first drawn to India when from 1962-65 we taught at Woodstock School (located in the northern Himalayan foothills). Other website posts of mine report from those years. Another journal entry will detail our extended, return trip from India to the U.S. during the summer of 1965. This one reports from twenty years later when with our daughters Lynda (then high school junior) and Gretchen (high school freshman) we traveled to south India (the girls’ first international exposure) to spend a winter semester at Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu state. I kept a journal only when traveling. Freedom with writing includes: initials used for names, deletion of common words like the, we, or I or some recurring verbs, w for with and &. Dates matter little. Three dots . . . indicate where segments of original writing deleted. While jet lag can be real, attention to sleep, or its lack, hardly deserves notice here as it did en route. My journals will vary in space given to perspective and feelings, to food or events. Readers will note my growing interest in world religions, a feature of India’s richness.

Neighbors Betty and Wayne Inbody took the four of us w luggage in their van from Goshen, IN to O’Hare Airport, Chicago; pleasant ride. Leaving us off at the curb, our “adventure” soon began as we learned that our scheduled flight to Seattle had been cancelled. After considerable indecision and a United worker Bill’s help, we risked going “standby” on a flight still scheduled to take off (though flights had not been going in/out of Seattle three days due to fog). After directed to the wrong desk where told that no “standby” possible, back to Bill who went to his superior (Ruth) who worked on our “standby” behalf. With large luggage sent, picked up hand baggage—7 pieces—w-out finding camera bag among them. All somewhat horrified, until G found that bag on my shoulder. First time to hear J. exclaim “Good Lord!” in disgust at our seeming incompetence to “guard” the needed.

Left at 11:30 a.m. seated in different sections of 747 aircraft —girls seated together, I next to an oriental man who not very able to manage his couple-year-old son. By end of 4-hour trip, fact of every seat having been filled and quite a few children/crying, a sense of weariness struck me. Immediately on to United # 17 flight to Hong-Kong which had delayed leaving until 40-50 of us from Chicago had arrived. Fourteen-hour flight—all 4 in same row. Fairly full load, more than lavatories could accommodate by journey’s end! John’s “buddy” next to him—mute Chinese scientist from Calif, returning with extended family to visit China. Couple major meals plus snack served; crews definitely work on these trips. No unpleasant turbulence.

On arriving Hong Kong airport—8:45 pm on 22nd—sense of truly in a foreign place. Whereas G had commented already at Seattle about number of oriental people among us, our being minority now most prominent. “We are guests” from here on for six months,” I told L after watching luggage circle and circle and circle w-out ours coming—all of Chicago flight people called to one area where told that our luggage had not come. Fortunately, our hand luggage prepared us for this—having packed nightwear and one change of clothes for each. Via speedy taxi ride to Caritas Bianchi Lodge—quite nice, equipped w TV & small cooler that included bottled water from France. J & L out for little walk on “live street scene” at 10 pm. All glad for hot showers. J began more than 50 phone calls placed in next 40 hours, intent to trace luggage. This plight affected entire stay in HK. Called Ira Kurtz—MCC phone no—glad for a Menno connection in case dilemma worsens.

Early afternoon decided to also stay extra day in KL arranging w hotel, calling YWCA in Delhi of day’s delay, learning that bags “may” come in one of three carriers in next 24 hours. Spent forenoon going to peak. Bus to ferry to bus line up, plus a little further hike before 8-min. tram ride down hill; conversation w British couple interesting. To Treasure restaurant briefly—escorted to third floor where, after being seated, served tea. Then we sat, not knowing how to function, finally catching on that carts wheeled around room from which to order individual portions. No workers spoke English; beginning to feel being laughed at by other noisy folk in room. Took 3 egg rolls to cut in half, and since none of us skilled w using chop sticks on a crusted egg roll, variously speared them. Decided time had come to leave where didn’t belong. Stopped at a corner restaurant, sat down, looked at the menu and walked out deciding to return to Hotel’s restaurant, w G a last chance for “American Veg. soup.” By 3 pm all ready for a couple-hour rest before off on city transport again plus walking many streets w crowds of people, taxis weaving and interweaving w buses & open-air trucks, plus.

Grateful that G and L both old enough to look out for themselves amidst throngs. Missed getting to British Airways office in time to re-write tickets for day later. Camera shopping for G who forgot to bring hers along from Goshen. L a good observer; enjoys watching people, also noting significant data. To McDonalds for a final hamburger each—likely largest McD ever in before walking half hour back, stopping en route to get each girl a nice sweater, plus ice cream express cones and a few drugstore items. “The streets are alive” not so much w “sound of music”—though that also true w Christmas carols and songs like “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!” Sidewalks alive w masses and streets w speeding transport, enough to make all weary.

J began morning w more phone calls about luggage. After breakfast at corner restaurant—decorated overly to our taste—J & L to Brit Air office. I repacked hand/carry-on luggage to put “heavies” in our 3 purses, knowing 44-pound weight limit for 4 people. To airport to “hound” offices necessary to learn about luggage. I wrote first letter to Mother. While G & I waited w hand bags, J & L to Pan Am Office where on locating room stacked full of “left luggage” and giving name as Nyce, worker responded, “Oh, yes.” It had been sent from Seattle to San Francisco to come across on Pan Am to HK.

As they returned to us, delighted and relieved, L saw Robert Kurtz. Having been on SST in China and en route to his parents in Nairobi, he had visited aunt/uncle Ira/Evie Kurtz here in HK; most pleasant conversation with Kurtzes. W rest of day at airport, found seats (few in open, huge airport area), ate milk and bread to “tide us over” until check-in at 3:30 before to restaurant for solid meal, knowing that a meal to be served after boarding flight (BA # 20) at 10 pm. Amazing airport: lack of public address system in area; very clean, lots of young security people. 3 Cantonese girls stopped L asking set of questions—part of school project—ending with picture of three girls. Very pleasant personal contact.

Reflections through days in New Delhi—written later (12/31/85) while on train en route to Hyderabad.

After long wait in HK airport, on BA flight w crew “trying hard” to make flight somewhat celebrative because Christmas eve. All 4 needed to be awakened for food—so tired. Hectic before landing—J needing to fill out forms, I w migraine starting which left L “shaking in her bones.” Delhi airport one of its kind for capital of a country of 700 million. Through customs without needing to open luggage having gotten off plane early and through “stations.” L amazed at amount of “left luggage” just standing around. Grateful that ours all arrived & into one car for ride to International Guest House (YWCA). To our rooms which struck me—dirt, lack of convenience—to which J said, “But this is India.”

Struggled for couple days w culture shock – as w table service at IGH, grubby hands of servers, streaked windows. Washed clothes in bucket while others slept, continued to be tight “knot,” anxious about adjustment for girls (they doing better than I), train connections, health risks for all. J & L each a round of Lomitil for diarrhea; grateful for swift control w couple doses. Periods for L & me; survive on aspirin which not available in bottles. What a gift—7 hours of sleep & warm water! Spent Christmas day most differently; not up for church though Molly Taylor’s note on arrival had invited us. Hear chanter at Moslem mosque several mornings early. Glad that girls each have head phones; those & books offer familiar. They adapting amazingly well, having expected things to be worse. I keep wondering: did we make mistake to bring all this transition on them? Will see adjustment at Kodai to decide—concerned about food & friendship for them. They definitely finding resource in each other & J showing his strength of attending to details—banking, train tickets from ICRASAT Avoid trying to do too much as when girls not wish to go to “Sound & Light” at Red Fort. One block just J and I did shopping—items for up-coming travel—3 shawls, wool blanket, 2 pieces of silk, rug looking w-out purchase, Punjabi outfit material for L & ready-made for me.

Developed pattern of breakfast at IGH plus one other restaurant meal a day—most often at Kwality—plus tea/toast in room in eve. Chai fast becoming staple; enjoying ice cream at Kwality, plus a couple good Indian meals there. Always w 2 trusty water bottles (from HK motel) w pini-ka-pani. Looking forward to mail for us at Kodai. J read newspaper plus excellent 10-year review issue of India Today. Some Hindi vocabulary returning for J & me; girls enjoy learning it. Family joke about “because that’s how it was in Mussoorie” plus other good laughs as family.

Spent Thurs. on tour to Agra—good guide & pleasant group w bus. Though sun not bright so shadow effect w Taj not as striking or marble as white. Yet Taj Mahal truly a wonder & tribute to a wife. Exposure to mogul history, begun in India 1526. Also stops at Agra Fort and another Mogul “enterprise.” Memories of when Dick and Melita and we during winter ’62, saw Taj by moonlight—awe-inspiring. Girls serious interest in picture-taking, G w new one & L w a With article due. J taking more shots of individual people—taking full advantage of new telephoto lens.

Must admit what strikes me most from looking out bus windows onto diverse activity is dirt, squalor, poverty w apparent effort to survive. J expresses surprise at economy like lack of small currency/rupee. Already given change from purchases in Hall’s cough drops or stamps. Admit that my standard of living has changed, taking for granted “having of things” during past two decades back in States. Also initially struck by how much L stared at by men on street. Once she wore sun glasses and became less self-conscious the better. G thought by many to be a boy—to her advantage. Struck too by awareness of more women on street and more family groups eating at places like Kwalitys. Aware of proximity of Sikh and Hindu and how volatile the situation must have been at time of Indira Gandhi’s death.

Toured New Delhi in forenoon; so overcast & cool not good for picture-taking, especially at government building area. Birla temple much less well painted than 20 years ago. G comments about manner of people’s worship practice & my practice of bargaining w sellers. Both girls make good observation of experiences encountered. Yet each return to books for “break” from newness & intensity—G reading David Copperfield and L Great Expectations. I liked seeing again Kutab Manar tower and area. Lengthy delays at places; some tourists take undue time returning to bus. Not especially good guide, though useful info about education & facets of Indian experience while riding between sites. Because of this short term & having made earlier purchases, not as tempted to buy. Also conscious of luggage quantity already needing to transport. Rather embarrassing but w four people gone 6 months during varied climates, not too surprising. Our 7 hand luggage pieces now number 8, plus canteens.

Sunday morning to Centenary Methodist Church on Lodi Road. Three people seated when we arrived, but more present once service begun. Birds joined in the service, chirping and zooming overhead w ease. Churches like this from era when many more expatriates in India. Indian pastor and Hindi service at another hour. Grateful for invitation to Joan Naberg’s apartment afterwards along w M/M Gilmore (Maureen a 4th grader at Woodstock in ‘60s) & M/M Peery visiting Joan from Bangalore where he systematics prof at Seminary. These two families previous Kodai families, children now adults & living elsewhere. Pleasant to have Christmas cookies & connection w Canadians in Delhi. Gilmores offered we could stay w them when return in late May. He w World Food Organization; Esther & Joan w MESH—chicken and handloom projects.

Reorganized luggage for train travel, plus played games in room—Kings Corner, Yahtzee, 5,000, etc. Glad for simple satisfactions, aware that TV not now part of time usage. Girls ask about comparison w 20 years ago; admit that aspects seem in poorer condition than expected. As w getting on Andrha Pradesh Express train: dirty conditions, no decent place to place soap in lavatory, general “gritty” feel. But grateful for no hassle w getting 1st class compartment & bedding bundles for each. Though dusty smell of blanket repels. Evening tea less trustworthy, hardly warm. Hindustani chai in morning fine & omelets mid-forenoon, via grubby food “supervisor.”

Written after stay w Stan/Bonnie in Hyderabad & train rides to Madras & Kodai – Jan. 3, 1986

Arrived Secunderabad (city linked w Hyderabad) 1 ½ hours late, humanity moving, shuffling in short steps, saman counted & double checked, 8 pieces among the four of us. Good to find ICRISAT license plate & Bonnie soon after. Amazed at her skill (nerve) to drive w flow of carts, bikes, scooters, rickshaws, public carriers, bulging buses, people on foot, buffalo, stray dogs. Then too road construction galore—women and men chopping stones, scraping dirt, hauling baskets of soil from one location to another, partly in prep for a cinema festival coming to town, soon via hometown Rao movie star.

Kings’ home ever to spacious, ever so refreshing. Garlanded by household workers—ever so neat and gracious. Soon washed away grit via showers and tub. Water, warm & cleansing, clear & restoring softness to skin and hair. Cousin Stan soon home from work at ICRASAT. After good chicken supper, valued visiting & Trivial Pursuit, J & G finishing first. Too weary to stay up to welcome New Year in, though David kept nudging that we “find the moon.” Tho never before well-acquainted w S & B, this setting the start of life-long friendship. Sons Matthew & David pleasant too, the former we’ll be w at Kodai.

On New Year’s Day 1986 went first to old mogul fort area—expansive enough to accommodate those under siege for 7 years. To Baobao tree—interesting, likely 500 years old, primarily petrified, an inviting climb into its innards for younger set. Then to ICRISAT. Beautiful surroundings, beef and potatoes meal, reliable water, little sense of ‘hardship.’ Saw good film about agricultural research being done. Lazy at pool’s edge meeting some of wives w whom Bonnie somewhat linked. Good conversation about this dilemma w her. Parental-spouse tug too—whether to stay where spouse overworked & w definition or spend time at Kodai w school child. Afraid I’m not cut out for such choosing.

Esties family at Kings for supper—special cook Ali prepared meal w unique Ramaddan dish. Asked lots of questions of Evie who had been house parent at Kodai; should find her resourceful. Next day to distinct areas of Hyderabad—saw naan being made in shops, silver being rhythmically pounded into paper-thin sheets—the pounders getting “a bang” from having their pictures taken. Lots of silver Jewelry being sold plus pearl shops. Driver Anwar patiently maneuvered among patchwork of transportation. J cashed Travelers checks and found shop for transformer—relieved to have this access for G’s ‘box.’ Afternoon Matthew’s embedded tooth pulled, ordeal that he managed well, & Stan the King had crown replaced. David w friend for day/night. Rest of us to really fine Chinese restaurant. Next morning Bonnie helped get sandals for L plus fruit for our train ride to Madras. Put together second Springbook puzzle—tough galaxy one—plus enjoyed Rumukub game before another good meal & repacking. Bonnie truly made our time in Hyderabad pleasant, doing a lot of “extras” for us including fine sandwiches for trip & “dropping” us at train station, their smooth-running Nissan ever-so-laden w all our luggage.

On board Madras Express found ourselves accompanied by group of Hindus dressed mostly in black that spent several hours chanting, striking triangles, rallying around their guru. Felt uncomfortable w this group, especially how some stared at us. In spite of sign posted “Please keep lavatory clean & dry,” western facility almost too risky to sit upon. All slept well, in spite of swaying & at times lengthy stops. In Madras directly to day room at Hotel Old Victoria—pleasant w air conditioning. J. picked up train tickets before all to Victoria Emporium and Spencers shopping area adding one more bundle to our assorted luggage. Second meal at hotel & rest before final leg of train ride south, likely the cleanest (or else we’re getting accustomed). Bought Rp.27 magnetic chess set that ‘works’ very well on moving train. Need to get off this meter gauge rail by 6:00 in morning at Kodaikanal Road before ‘next chapter’ awaits us all.