The Thinkery

Philosophy, teaching, etc.

Month: July 2017

Out of India

Refresher:  Thursday, May 4 – Our original departure date.  Expired visa.  Lack of registration for children.  No go.

Friday, May 5:  Visit to Mumbai immigration office.  Sent back to Pune for documents, paperwork, signatures, etc.

Saturday, May 6:  Back in Pune.  Immigration office listed as closed, but a visit proves otherwise.  We get a good start on paperwork needed to exit.  Also, our landlord (who’s in Canada, remember) responded immediately to our emails and within an hour or two he had signed, scanned and returned all the documents we needed.  Amazing man.

Our other task after our day at the  immigration office Saturday was to actually purchase our plane tickets for Wednesday, May 10.  Here we hit a bit of a snag, because while Fulbright gave us money towards some of the ticket price, we had to pay some as well, and there were some issues with who was paying what, and in what currency, etc.  Plus I kept getting cut off when I would finally get a hold of someone from United.  I mentioned this to Sachin, our Mumbai Fulbright connection, and he got right on it.  Soon, United had emailed us something – it wasn’t the tickets themselves, but a sort of receipt – that we hoped would suffice for the immigration officials.

Sunday, May 7:  Remember I said we had moved all of our stuff out of our apartment.  That wasn’t 100% accurate.  We moved all our clothes, books, etc. out, but all the big furniture and appliances were still there.  Farhana’s family was going to take care of that after we left (obviously).  But now we were there to help (yay!).  Amina’s boss hooked us up with a tempo (truck) and some movers.  I didn’t do much heavy lifting, because of my back.  But did a lot of cleaning up as the beds, refrigerator, etc. got taken out.  Sukrut came to help (he’s a glutton for punishment), and in-between tempo trips, as our stuff went between our place and Gulistan, Sukrut and I would go to a copier shop in the neighborhood and make copies of documents that we needed for the immigration office the next day.  By the end of the day, most of the stuff had been moved, and we had put together nice, complete folders for each of the kids.  Gulistan was a mess, because all that big stuff from our place was piled into the house.  But overall, it was a pretty productive day.

Monday, May 8:  Back to the Pune FRO office right at opening time (10 a.m.).  We (and when I say “we” I mean “Sukrut”) got the living-arrangements stuff taken care of pretty quickly (by Pune FRO standards), which was nice.  That was the stuff we needed signatures from the landlord for.  I was expecting a bit more of a headache on that, since the landlord was in Canada.  But no problems with any of that.

Next, we paid all the fees for the various procedures and applications.  So things looked good.   Around 3 p.m. though, we were told that nothing further could be done that day, because the remaining paperwork we needed had to be signed by officials who were not present.  So we left. A  move we would come to regret, but which seemed quite reasonable at the time.

I didn’t take many pictures from these days for obvious reasons.  But there was a cute dog at the Pune FRO who seemed to be a mascot of the place, who liked Zak (and anyone who would pet him).

Tuesday, May 9:  This is our last day, since the FRO office is closed on Wednesday for some sort of holiday, and we’ve now officially booked our tickets home for Wednesday, at 11:30 p.m.  So we’ve got to walk out today with all the proper stamps, documentation, signatures, etc.  And things looked good.  It was mostly a waiting game, now, as documents went from official to official for various necessary signatures.  Sukrut was doing most of the talking for us, and calling his various connections when necessary.  By about 3 p.m., we had all of Zak’s stuff done – he was ready to go. And Eli’s and Sophia’s stuff just needed to be printed out.

Just then, the power went out.  No big deal.  The power goes out quite often in India, and we still had 2 hours to go before official closing time.  So we waited.  And waited.  No power.  4:30 p.m. rolls around.  Still no power.  It would’ve been funny if it hadn’t been so excruciating.  Our last day to get this stuff done, thousands of dollars worth of plane tickets on the line, visas expiring Thursday, everything done but the printing – and the power was out.

Finally, the lights come on right around 5 p.m.  Success!  But no.  While the lights had come back on, the internet connection hadn’t.  And the forms we needed to print were all online.  So no dice.  Sukrut was talking to people who said they’d stick around a while after closing time, because of the outage.  Farhana called Gulistan and her brothers and sisters were calling the power company, which is what you do in such situations.  Still, by 6 p.m. no internet.  Sukrut talked to a guy who said “come tomorrow”.

“But it’s a holiday, the office is closed,” we responded.

“It’s closed to the public,” he said, “but people will be here working.  Come in and we’ll get this stuff printed and you’ll be out of  here by noon”.

So we left Tuesday crestfallen, but with some hope.

Wednesday, May 10:  So we’re flying out of Mumbai tonight at 11:30 p.m. (or else losing our tickets and dealing with more expired visas).  It’s about a 4-hour drive from Pune to Mumbai.  We had to arrange for cars to leave Pune by around 1 or 2 p.m.  We needed to leave that early because we still have to go back to our Mumbai hotel to pick up all our big luggage (they’ve been graciously holding it for us for almost a week, now).  The FRO opened at 10 a.m.  So we had a few hours to get everything done.  At that point, we were making plans for different contingencies, and even talking about the possibility of splitting up, so we wouldn’t all have to buy new tickets.

We get to the FRO early and a few other people in similar situations are there as well.  One guy tells us that a friend of his had twice missed flights to Afghanistan because of paperwork hold-ups here at the Pune FRO, so that didn’t exactly put us in a positive mood.  And when we tried to go in, the people at the door said “no, we’re closed”.  After some explaining and a trip inside by one of the security people, we were allowed in.  And within an hour or two, we had successfully acquired all the documents, stamps, signatures, etc. that we needed.  We were (finally) cleared to go.

We had to go through all the goodbyes a second time, which was really hard.  Having the extra time in Pune was good, but most of it was spent at the FRO, or doing things that had to be done once we went back to the FRO.  So we didn’t get to spend as much time with family as we would’ve liked.  But our cars showed up on time, we said our goodbyes (again), and headed to Mumbai.

First, we went back to the hotel (called Vits) and ate some dinner.  It’s a great place and again, let me highly recommend it.  Not only did they not charge us even one rupee for keeping our bags all week, but they arranged cars for us from the hotel to the airport (which, thankfully was a short drive).  We got to the airport around 8, and checked in with no problems at all.  Aside from misplacing one backpack for a few minutes, the trip back to Newark went off without a hitch.  Our car service had been successfully rescheduled and my parents met us with no problems.  We celebrated with breakfast at a Pennsylvania Friendly’s.  Here are some pics of the process – from dinner at Vits, to the airport, to the plane, to Newark airport, to Friendly’s:

So, we had finally made it!  It was nice to be back in the good old USA – but bittersweet.  We were already missing friends and family from India.

And speaking of friends and family in India:  I’ve mentioned my (former) student Sukrut a lot in these last few posts, but it’s difficult to convey how helpful he was in the process. Not only did he do most of the work at the FRO, he did it cheerfully and optimistically, keeping our spirits up most of the time.  He didn’t even have to be there!  He has a whole life of his own, and there were final exams going on at the university during this time.  Anyway, if I live to be 100, I’m not sure I could pay him back for his kindness.  And it wasn’t just that last week.  Sukrut did an independent study with me on advanced logic, and since this was while my back was hurting (making trips to campus somewhat difficult), he would often come to our apartment for “logic class”.  As such, “class” would often begin with Sukrut playing a couple of games of chess against Zak and/or Eli, and might end, after a few hours struggling with multi-valued logics (or some such thing), with dinner and reruns of Friends.  Doing philosophy with him was fun, and enlightening.  But he also became a great friend to the family.

And of course, the Syeds were fantastic.  Coming back to Pune was unexpected, and all of a sudden, here were 5 people and a still sizable amount of baggage that had to be accommodated.  Then, all of the big stuff from our apartment landed in Gulistan a few days later.  But no one batted an eye.  People shifted from beds to floors, and from nice, cool rooms to hot ones to make room for us, but the only emotion I saw expressed was happiness to see us again.  We even squeezed in a trip to see Guardians of the Galaxy II somehow:

I’ll post more about various aspects of our time in India in the coming days and weeks.  It was really a great trip and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.


Back to Pune

So, just to catch you up a bit:

Thursday, May 4:  Our (first) departure date.  No go.  Sent to a Mumbai hotel (called Vits) for the night.

Friday, May 5:  Trip to Mumbai immigration.  No go.  Sent back to Pune.

Even though we only stayed one night in the Mumbai hotel and got a reduced rate, they nevertheless generously allowed us to keep our big luggage bags (10 of them) in their locker/vault area until our business in Pune was done.  I cannot thank the Vits people enough for how nice they were to us during this whole  ordeal.

Fulbright was similarly generous in paying for our car trips from Mumbai to Pune and back again during this time.  Fulbright is an incredibly awesome organization.

The drive between Mumbai and Pune can take anywhere from 2.5 – 4+ hours.  The highway between the two cities is very modern – as good as any US interstate.  But the traffic in each city is what really drags the trip out.  It takes at least an hour just to get from the hotel to the highway in Mumbai, and another hour (at least) to go from Pune city limits to Gulistan.

We arrived back in Gulistan late Friday.  After all the panic at the airport and the running around in Mumbai, it felt great to be in a familiar place with family again.  The kids were happy to be back as well.

Our plan was to head to the Pune FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) right away Saturday, but when we looked at their website it said they were closed on Saturday.  The immigration guy in Mumbai had assured us they were open on Saturday, so this was disappointing.  That meant we wouldn’t get to see anyone until Monday.  The rest of our visas (mine, Sophia’s and Eli’s) ran out that Thursday, May 11 so we didn’t have much time to spare.

When we woke up Saturday morning, though, Farhana suggested we take a trip to the FRO on Saturday anyway, just to check.  We let Sukrut know we were going and he agreed to meet us there.  We arrived at the FRO around 9:30 a.m. and sure enough, there were people around.  Our particular office wasn’t yet open, but we were told that it would be at 10 a.m.  And open it was!

Sukrut arrived soon after we did, and from that moment on, he was with us every second we were at the FRO, and he did most of the talking for us.  And did all of the waiting with us.  And there was a lot of waiting!

In retrospect, if we hadn’t gone to the FRO that day and got done what we did, we wouldn’t have made it out by our visa-expiration deadline.

If you go back and look at some early posts, I give a few details about how difficult the registration process was when I went through it when we first arrived.  All told, it took me many weeks to complete and many trips to the FRO.  I was very skeptical that we’d be able to get all that same work done for the kids in such a short time, in addition to taking care of Zak’s expired visa problem (I think I muttered “we’re screwed!” more than a few times).  Sukrut was confident, though, and his confidence rubbed off a bit.  By the time we left the FRO on Saturday, we weren’t anywhere near finished, but we made a good start, and it looked like perhaps we could complete things on Monday.

There were a couple things that we had to do by that Monday, though, that looked like they might be problematic.  First, we had to get proof of residence in India for the kids, which meant getting signatures from our landlord – who lives near Toronto, Canada!  He’s originally from India, and comes back to visit quite often, but he wasn’t in India at the time.  The FRO told us we could send the relevant documents to him by email, have him print and sign and scan them, then send them back to us.  However, he’s quite a traveler and so we had no idea how long it might take  him to respond to emails.  So that was one potential sticking point.

The other potential problem was:  to take care of Zak’s problem, we had to get something called an “exit permit” for him; and to do that, we had to have plane tickets in hand.  The problem with that was, we didn’t know for sure when we were going to be flying out because we didn’t know how long, exactly, the FRO was going to take to complete the rest of our business.  United had allowed us to postpone the flight we missed on Thursday, but if we got tickets for a new flight and ended up missing that one, we’d have to eat the loss and buy all new tickets out-of-pocket.  And tickets from India to the US are not cheap.

The people at the FRO gave us the following advice:  since the rest of your visas expire on Thursday, book the tickets now for Wednesday (May 10) at 11:30 p.m.  You’ll definitely be done by then.

Did we have a choice?  Oh, and guess what else?  Wednesday was a holiday for the FRO office – they’d be closed that day.  So that meant we had Monday and Tuesday to finish all the business that had taken me weeks to complete back in July of 2016.  The clock was ticking.

Next time:  Not-so-fast times at the FRO.

Leaving India (Well, Trying to Leave India)

Our flight out of India was scheduled for Thursday, May 4 at around 11:30 p.m.  Before leaving, we shopped around for some gifts, though we didn’t have room in our luggage to carry too much.  We looked at some beautiful carpets – though they were generally too heavy and/or big and/or expensive to purchase.

And we met these two guys who were selling various craft items, and also showing off their singing and rapping skills.

We cleaned out our apartment, with much help from family and friends.  We really loved that place:

We packed our suitcases (all 10 of them, plus 5 carry-on bags and a bunch of backpacks):

And said our goodbyes, which was incredibly difficult, and sad:

And we headed to Mumbai in two cars that Fulbright provided, stopping for some exotic Indian McDonald’s food on the way:

We were flying from Mumbai direct to Newark.  My parents were staying at a hotel near the Newark airport and coming to pick us up around 6 a.m., when our flight was scheduled to arrive.  My (generous) aunt and uncle had arranged for the hotel as well as a car service to take us from the Newark airport to the hotel (thanks Mike and Meredith!).  But trouble began when we got in the line at the United ticket counter and handed over our passports.  Mumbai airport is almost brand new, and incredibly beautiful – check out these pillars:

One of the United employees noticed that Zak’s visa was expired.  He went to talk to the immigration people somewhere else in the airport.  We waited:

He came back with bad news.  We couldn’t fly out with Zak’s visa expired.  No amount of begging, pleading, cajoling, etc. would budge anyone that we talked to.  They said we’d have to go to an immigration office in Mumbai the next day (remember, it was close to 11 p.m. at this point) to get it all taken care of.    Another issue was that the kids had never been “registered” while we were in India, since there were specific rules that said children under 16 didn’t have to register.  But on their visa, it said that they did need to be registered.  So this was something we needed to take care of as well.

I started calling people in a panic – I had some Fulbright contacts in Mumbai who contacted other Fulbright people in India.  They couldn’t do much for us that night, but were a great help thereafter.  And, once it was definite that we weren’t flying out that night, I tried to reach my parents before they headed down to the hotel (with limited success – they found out when they were part way to the hotel) – and also the car service that was going to pick us up (which worked out fine and they rescheduled).

The United people were quite good about arranging a hotel for us that night.  It was quite inexpensive, but very high quality (it’s called VITS, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Mumbai – it’s quite close to the airport).  This was right after United had been all over the news for dragging a guy off a plane, if you remember that.  I don’t know if that contributed to the good treatment we got or not.    So we loaded our 15+ pieces of luggage into two vans (provided by United) and headed to a hotel for the night.  No biggie.  What’s one  more day in India?  And we got to drive around Mumbai a bit the next day and see some sites – though only from a speeding taxi (for a change I have an excuse for my blurry pictures):

We met up with my Fulbright contact in Mumbai, Sachin (a great help, and a philosopher, I might add) and headed to the Mumbai immigration office:

One of the most important calls I had made the night before was to a student of mine from SPPU who you’ll remember from previous posts – Sukrut.  Here we are together the day we left Pune:

Sukrut, through his family, knew some people in the immigration department in Maharashtra.  But more importantly, Sukrut possessed a dogged determination to help us in any way possible.  He really went above and beyond, and I honestly think if it wasn’t for Sukrut, we might still be in India today.  Because, see, the rest of our visas were set to expire quite soon, which would mean getting back on that same immigration merry-go-round again if we didn’t get out of Dodge soon.  Thanks to Sukrut, we eventually (by the skin of our teeth) made it.

Anyway, that day it looked like we’d be done in plenty of time to catch a flight that night – United has one 11:30 p.m. direct flight from Mumbai to Newark each day.  Zak even wrote some final goodbye letters:

But it wasn’t to be.  The immigration official in the Mumbai office told us that in order to take care of the things we needed to take care of, we had to head back to Pune.

Coming  up next:  Back to Pune

(sorry, that’s the best I could do on short notice)

Birthdays, Bench, and a Camel


We celebrated a lot of birthdays before we left.  Eli, Simmi, and myself had birthdays in April, while Faizan and Salman had birthdays in May.  My student, and friend, Sukrut, presented me with this cake:

And my brothers- and sisters-in-law got me this:

“Bhai” means brother and “sahab” is a term of respect.

For Eli’s birthday, Aunty Simmi got a very cool cake with lots of his favorite things, including chess, Uno, dinosaurs, iphones, and the TV show Friends, which we watched a lot in reruns while we were in India:


Speaking of Aunty Simmi, she’s an incredible artist.  Remember that bench I posted about way back when – the one I’d salvaged from the garbage early in our trip?  Well, I Shanghaied Simmi into painting the top, and what an amazing job she did!  Zeeshan pitched in as well (see if you can guess which part he did).  Here are some shots:


All  year, there was a guy who walked up and down the road in front of Gulistan (and we’d occassionally see him over near Bhatnager, too) with a camel, selling rides.  Eli and Zak were finally convinced to take one:

Coming soon: the story of our disastrous first attempt to leave India.  Spoiler alert – it didn’t go so well.

Semester’s End

I have some posts that I began back while I was still in India, but never finished and/or posted.  I’m going to try to get caught up a bit now.

My final exams were all done and grades were submitted back in April.  The department  – students and faculty – had a really nice going-away event, followed by lunch.  My colleagues were gracious and some of my students spoke very movingly.  It was a bit overwhelming.  Here are some pics:

With colleagues, office staff, etc.

With students

With my colleague, Karilemla

With my colleague Muzaffar Ali

With department chair, Dr. Chhatre

With my colleague and translator, Ashish

Me with Sukrut and Ashish


With my student Deepali


With Sukrut, Stuart and Zak


With Maushi, one of the building’s staff who was usually the first person I saw every morning.


With the vendor at the campus store/canteen, who I bought a lot of spicy peanuts from

It’s difficult to believe that these pictures are from two months ago, already.  And that we arrived in India exactly a year ago.  We all quite miss being there, and going back through these pictures reminds me of some of the great experiences I had at SPPU.

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