Teaching and Learning Philosophy in India

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Open House, Groundhog Day, etc.

Open House

The kids had a combination Open House/Science Fair at their school recently.  Here are some pics:

Zak’s Van Gogh impression

Looking forward to talking to their teachers

Eli and his science project

Eli with his fellow group members

Science Fair sign

Japanese Garden

A few months back, we went to visit a Japanese friendship garden in Pune – though it was at night.  The kids have been wanting to go back during the day, so they finally got their chance.

Groundhog Day

I missed the garden this time around as I was hosting the department’s Saturday movie day.  Since very view of my students had seen it before, I decided to show the movie Groundhog Day – which is, believe it or not, a defense of Aristotelian Virtue Ethics (among other philosophical themes).  I think it went over pretty well, though I felt the need to assure those in attendance that Groundhog Day is a real thing in the US.

Here are some philosophical takes on the movie, if you’re interested:


One of the wonderful things about Pune is the bird life.  We see and hear a wide range of birds throughout the day, from hummingbirds to hawks.  Recently, a family of doves (I think) moved in across the hall from my office:


Farhana’s dad is back in the hospital.  As you may remember, he has COPD and often has shortness of breath.  The hot weather (it’s getting up to around 100 degrees here during the days) hasn’t helped.  He’s doing well, though, and was recently moved from intensive care to a private room.  The doctors expect him to be home soon.  Thoughts and prayers are always appreciated.

Holi, etc.


Today (Monday,  March 13) is the second day of the Hindu festival called Holi.  Here’s Wikipedia’s summary:

Holi is a Hindu spring festival celebrated in India and Nepal, also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. It is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.

Modern festivities involve lots of water and color.  It’s:

…a free-for-all carnival of colors, where people smear each other with colors and drench each other. Water guns and water-filled balloons are also used to play and color each other. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. 

Thankfully, people left me alone when I ventured out today, but I did see a lot of people who looked like this (though I didn’t take this shot – I was afraid if I tried to snap some pics, I’d draw attention to myself):

It was a holiday for the kids at school [insert “holi” – day joke here, Dad], and the university was closed as well.

Speaking of Colors

Despite the fact that it hasn’t rained a drop here for months, flowers are blooming in our neighborhood.  Here’s some pics Farhana took walking home from school with Zak:


As Sophia mentioned in her post, we had the pleasure of Ahmed and Farzana’s company over the last few days (it was the sisters of Farzana’s husband, Jalil, who just got married – so Jalil was in Hyderabad, where the grooms are from, for a reception).  Poor kid got very little attention:

And we put him to work making roti:

Farzana, on her day off from the office where she works, cooked some delicious poha for breakfast and biryani for dinner.  I think I gained five pounds while she was here.

Poor Zak is now missing his cousin.  They’re pretty inseparable when they’re in the same house.

Guest Blogger: Sophia – Indian Wedding

Hello again! It’s me, Sophia. The guest blogger.  I haven’t written in a long time. Not since the end of August, anyways. But I’ve come again to tell you about my experience at a recent Indian wedding.  It was a double wedding, actually.  Two of my mom’s cousins (who are sisters) were getting married to two brothers from Hyderabad.  It’s a bit complicated.

That’s me on the left, in purple.

The wedding itself was on Sunday, March 5th. My dad stayed home with my brother Eli, who was running a fever (he’s fine now).  My mom had already gone to Gulistan a few days before to pick out our outfits (I didn’t go along because I was feeling sick that day). She was supposed to wear a brown top and skirt (no idea what the Indian name for it is), but ended up wearing a blue dress sort of thing, which I have pictures of. I wore a purple sari. We put on makeup and jewelry (not Zak), and had to rush out because we were late.

We were not late. We were an hour early, making us the first people there.  Even though we showed up at the start time – according to the invitation, that is.  Here we are waiting outside the venue with Nanajan and Nanima:

But on the bright side, I got to meet lots of new family members. Some of them were: my aunt’s friend, our neighbors/their neighbors, family members that I have never met before, and probably won’t see for the rest of my stay in India, etc. It turns out; I have a lot of gorgeous relatives. Lots of people wanted to meet my Nanajan and Nanima, and also my mom, as she has been in America with us for a long time. We were probably meeting and greeting people for about half an hour, while the wedding hall was being set up.

After that, we went in. The main room was giant, split into two parts by a curtain. On the one side, there were 4 thrones, as there were two couples getting married. On this side, for some part of the wedding, this was where the men sat, while the… officiator… officiated. Sometime around then, my mom told us that there was a separate room where the brides and their family were waiting. We were there for 15 minutes chatting with the brides and brides’ family. After a while, we went back to the main room, and after that the brides came in. Eventually, we ate food (Indian, of course), and there were lots of pictures taken.  There were some tears from one of the newlywed brides, too.  Here are some pictures:

Wedding Hall

My mom and her sister Farzana

Zak and Ahmed

The grooms

The brides – with their mother in between

The brides, grooms and family


Before I knew it, it was 10:00 PM. At that time we started — started, mark you, to say goodbye. There were a lot of people there, and a lot of goodbyes exchanged. We probably didn’t get home until 10:40, after dropping my grandparents off at Gulistan. It was 11:00 by the time we said goodbye to our uncles and aunts, and 11:30 by the time I got to bed. In other words, it was a long night.

Gulistan – post-wedding

The entire night was enjoyable. Especially since my first experience at an Indian wedding, which was 9 years ago (when I was 2 years old!), and involved an itchy dress (I had some sort of allergic reaction).  I don’t remember much from that night – but I definitely remember the itching.

Other news; my little cousin, Ahmed, has been staying with us for a couple days now. It’s been fun having a little guy in the house again, and having Ahmed especially is very fun.

Ahmed with his mom and dad

Until next time!

Mumbai, Election Day, Etc.


I went to Mumbai this past weekend at the invitation of a former (and perhaps future) Fulbrighter:  Dean Uma Narain.  Here she is back in the day with the man, William Fulbright, himself (shortly before he died):

She is the founder of the Joyti Dalal School of Liberal Arts (JDSoLA) within NMIMS University (not sure what the NM stands for, but the IMS at the end is “Institute of Management Studies).  So it’s a business school that has recognized the value of liberal arts.  That’s quite something, as the liberal arts aren’t nearly as highly valued in India as (what we would call in the US) the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) – and medicine.  The school is pretty new, and feels more like a luxury hotel than a university.

Dr. Narain has an ambitious plan for the school, and its interdisciplinary nature is a big part of that.  I was there, though, to present some good old-fashioned philosophy lectures and my topics were Descartes and Hume, as well as a brief overview of 20th century analytic philosophy.  Here’s some pics of the class:

There’s one full-time philosopher (so far) at JDSoLA named Lalit Saraswat.  With a background in engineering and neuroscience, he fits the school’s interdisciplinary needs to a T.  It was his class that I was invited to guest lecture in.  Other faculty members I met had similar interdisciplinary backgrounds.    A very friendly, and interesting group:

The first day was Friday, and I talked about Descartes for a few hours – his Meditations and his arguments for mind/body dualism.  It went well, although partway through, there was a noticeable stir among the students, who all started talking at once, with some getting up and leaving the room, even.  I found out later that the school had chosen that particular moment to release last semester’s grades online (the students got instant phone alerts when that happened) – and apparently, not everyone was happy with them.

Things settled down, though, and I got some great questions and comments from the group of about 35 undergraduates.  Aside from some worse-than-usual back pain, everything went well.  Due to the back pain, I spent some time after the lectures laying (lying?) on the floor in Lalit’s office, doing some stretching exercises the physical therapist has taught me.  Apparently, some of the administrators from the upper floors saw me (the office walls were glass) and thought I was perhaps having a medical emergency of some sort.  They sent a security guy down to check on me!

The school put me up in a nice hotel nearby that had a great high-pressure, steaming-hot shower (that was the highlight, as I wasn’t there for too long, having arrived a bit late and left a bit early the next morning).

The next day, Saturday (yes, most colleges and universities in India have classes on Saturday), I met some more members of the faculty, including a woman who is married to an American from Ohio.  They met as graduate students at UCLA – both archaeologists.  So we had lots of notes to compare.  Another faculty member I met had a background in social linguistics, and is teaching sociology for the school.  Everyone I met had strong interdisciplinary credentials.  And everyone was incredibly nice, and curious about how things are structured in US colleges/universities.

The lectures on Saturday were mostly on David Hume (thanks Pat Kenny!), with a bit on the history of analytic philosophy.  Again, very interesting comments from the students.  Also, my first Fulbright contact in India back in July, named Sachin, who’s also a philosopher, came by and sat in on the class.  After the lecture on each day, Dean Narain had lunch brought up from the school’s cafeteria – I had biryani and naan each time (excellent) – and my back was much improved over the previous day.

The rides to and from Mumbai were pretty uneventful.  The school rented me a car both ways, which was good, as I could lay down on the back seat when necessary.

The distance from Pune to Mumbai is a mere 90 miles or so.  About the same distance from Syracuse to the PA border.  However, the drive took about 4 hours each way!  The bulk of that time, though, is spent in each of the cities. The highways between the two cities are quite new and modern, though they do have a lot of traffic.  However, once you enter each city, the traffic becomes very congested and it took an hour in each to get from outskirts to destination.

Overall, it was a really great trip and I’m hoping to get back for another visit before we leave.  I didn’t get to see much of Mumbai (or run into any Bollywood stars), so perhaps I can bring the whole family next time and do some sightseeing.


Election Day

Local elections have finally come (and gone).  The candidate who Farhana’s family voted for won his race, so that was good.  And the city was all lit up, which was fun:

Rizwana’s Birthday

Rizwana recently turned 21 (again).  We still have a surprise gift that we haven’t given her yet (don’t tell), but she did get a nice mug.  And picture from Eli:

Celebrity Spotting

There’s a great philosophy podcast called The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.  They’ve been doing a history of Indian philosophy and the most recent episode featured a couple named Ujjwala Jha and V.N. Jha – who, I was surprised to hear – teach in the Sanskrit department here at Pune University!  I stopped in to introduce myself and had a nice chat with Prof. Jha (Ujjwala).  She hadn’t heard that the podcast episode had been posted, so we spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to play it on her phone.  Here’s the Sanskrit department, and a (terribly blurry) selfie I took (where’s Simmi when I need her?).

Ch ch ch ch changes

Apparently, OCC hasn’t stopped everything, anxiously awaiting my return.  Things are changing including sadly (though happily for them) the departure of two of my favorite people – Mike Heise and Adam Prestopnik.  I got to know each originally through their work with the distance learning department, but then was fortunate enough to serve on various committees with each.  Mike was one of the first people I met outside of the social sciences department at OCC and he and Adam both really helped me to improve my online course offerings.  Thank goodness Laura Matechak will still be around to put up with my pestering Blackboard questions.

Elections, Dissertation Defense, Root Canals, Ammi’s Gift, etc.


It’s election season here in the state of Maharashtra (and a few other Indian states).  It’s quite different from election time in the US.  I haven’t seen any TV commercials at all.  But there are lots of cars and autorickshaws decked out with loudspeakers, driving around telling me how I should vote.

Also, people knock on our door at least once a day and hand us flyers with party information and lists of candidates.  I’ve tried, a bit, to get caught up with the issues and candidates, but it’s really difficult without more knowledge of history and politics in India more generally.  It’s definitely more party-oriented than personality oriented – which isn’t surprising, I suppose, given that India has a parliamentary system.  It’s not that you don’t see candidates’ names and faces.  But they’re generally on posters/ads with all the other candidates from that party’s slate.   There’s some sense that the demonetization issue might have an effect on election day, but not much.  Or at least not as much as I expected.

Things have gotten better with respect to the availability of cash, but are still not back to normal.  It’s a sort of two steps forward, one step back process.  As cash started becoming more available, lots of vendors who had switched to accepting cards or electronic payments went back to just accepting cash, which tightened things up again.  Personally, we got used to doing things without cash, to a large extent, so even small improvements in the cash supply made things feel more normal to us.  There’s  not much griping about it anymore, and while ATMs are often still closed, finding an open one is no longer like hitting the lottery.  Even Citibank is stocking its machines every once in a while these days.

Additionally, lots of little things get done in the city since elections are coming up.  Roads get paved and lines painted (though still not really paid much attention to).  Sidewalks get installed or fixed.  Neighborhoods get cleaned up.  Etc.  Indians are pretty cynical about this, I’ve found (“a few weeks for politicians to pay attention to the common man, then back to the usual corruption” is a sentiment I’ve heard more than once).  But it definitely improves things – in the short-term, anyway.

Dissertation Defense

On our first day in Pune, back in early July, we were met at the university by a few graduate students who helped us bring our bags into the guest house, arranged for our dinner that first night, and just generally helped us to settle in.   One was Ashish, who has since become a faculty member in the department (and my Marathi interpreter).  The  other was Jekap, who left soon after we arrived, but just came back to Pune from his home in northeast India to defend his dissertation.  Here we are together about 8 months after that first day (Jekap’s to the left):

He did a great job at his defense, which was on the intersection of economics and morality.  He already has a job in his home state teaching philosophy, so he’s  heading back there right away.  It was good to see him in action (rather than just lugging around our thousands of suitcases).  Congratulations!

Root Canal

Now that my back pain has receded a bit, I decided to supplement it with some dental pain.  Actually, I wasn’t in much pain, but I had some swelling on my gum at the base of one of my teeth.  The dentist said it was an infection, and a root canal was performed.  It was a bad day, as I was catching a cold that has been going around our house and had a minor fever.  And my back was still yelling at me a bit.  But thank goodness dental chairs are recliners.

The procedure went smoothly, though, and pain was minimal (and has been since the root canal).  Here’s the excellent team of dental professionals I had working on me:

I’ve still been going to physical therapy for my back – though less often than before.  It’s much better, though it still bothers me after sitting for long-ish periods of time, so I’ve kept my stand-up desk set-up in my office.  I’m doing lots of exercises twice a day to strengthen the back muscles and (hopefully) prevent future incidents.  In addition to an excellent physical therapist (Dr. Acharya, below):

I have a very strict exercise coach at home:

Ammi’s Gift

Zeeshan and I finally finished our latest project – a sort of ottoman/foot rest for Farhana’s mother, whose feet sometimes swell.  Here are some pics:

I think she liked it.

Some Random Photos

Zak arriving at his school:

Sophia, after school:

Beatles imitation:

Simmi, jamming with her band:

A pond, and small Buddhist worship house – on campus (the place is so big, I’m still finding new stuff – with Sukrut’s help):

Finally, Farhana with some family:

I’m heading to Mumbai this weekend to do some guest lectures at NMIMS – on Descartes and Hume, mostly.  The dean is a former Fulbrighter, which is how she found out about me.  I’ll post some pics when I get back.


Cricket, Explained

The philosophy department staff, along with other departments in our building, have been playing in an intramural cricket tournament.  They’ve been quite successful, and there was finally a match (in the semifinals) that didn’t conflict with my schedule.  It was fun to watch, and I think I’m finally starting to figure out the rules of the game.

I would’ve surely dominated if it weren’t for my back problems.

Cricket, as I’ve discussed in previous posts is THE sport in India.  Soccer is popular.  Kabbadi is up-and-coming.  But no other game has the popularity of cricket here.  Kids with cricket bats are ubiquitous and everyone seems to know how to play.  It totally dominates the sports pages – even when no matches are being played by India’s team.

You might remember my theory that knowing the rules of baseball actually makes it harder to understand cricket.  I’ve always found myself looking for similarities that don’t exist, while missing the ones that do.  Also, since baseball is not much watched in India, it’s  hard to find someone who knows the rules of both games and can translate from one to the other.  My brothers-in-law have given me a good foundation, and at yesterday’s game a philosophy graduate student named Sukrut finally helped me get to the next level:

You talkin’ to me?

My explanation is below, but first some pics of the team and its fans:

Cricket for Dummies (Who Know the Rules of Baseball)

OK, so here’s my explanation of cricket in terms of baseball.  First, get rid of 1st and 3rd base.  There’s only home and second base.  And they’re closer together than in baseball.  And instead of a diamond, you’ve got a circle, with the home-to-second-base corridor in the center:

Also, instead of one batter, there are two.  One stands at home and the other stands on second.  Both holding bats.  The one at home is the one who is actually “up” and gets pitched to.  There’s a catcher behind him.  The fielders (there are 9 of them in addition to the pitcher and catcher) are spread around the circle – some in the infield and some in the outfield.

At home and at second, instead of bases (or a home plate), there are vertical sticks jutting out of the ground (the wicket) with plates/sticks balanced on top.  They serve many of the functions that the bases serve in baseball.

OK, so the pitcher pitches the ball and the batter tries to hit it.  If the batter gets a hit, both batters run.  The guy at home runs to second, and the guy at second runs home.  Much like baseball, they can then keep running as long as they can get away with running.  But if they get caught between the two bases, then they can get thrown out.  But instead of tagging the runner or the base as in baseball, the cricket fielders “tag” or knock down one of the wickets with the ball.  If the wicket is knocked down while the runners are between the bases, then it’s an out.  The batter whose wicket was knocked down is done and a new batter comes up.

So in a very basic sense, it’s quite like baseball.  The defense tries to get the batter out, while the batter tries to get hits and score runs by running the bases.  Outs are gained by catching the runner between bases, but also in other ways similar to baseball – for example, if the batter hits a fly ball that’s caught in the air, he’s out.

But there are also some key differences that tend to make the game so confusing for those who know baseball.  For example, outs don’t really matter in cricket the way they do in baseball.  In baseball, three outs ends the inning.  Not so in cricket (at least not in the type of match I was watching – there are variations).  Instead, the inning has a set number of pitches – and so the inning continues no matter how many outs are scored.  In cricket, then, the outs merely lead to a change of batter, but they don’t determine the length of innings/games.  The only exception is that if all of the team’s players (all 11 of them) get out before the set number of pitches has been thrown, then the inning is over.

Another big difference:  hits don’t end the batters turn at bat.  If the batter gets a hit that allows him to run to second and then back home again (i.e. a double), then he bats again (if he only makes it to second, bringing the other batter home, then the other batter is now “up”).  So potentially, a batter can be “up” for a long time.  As long as he keeps  hitting safely.   Imagine what this would do to RBI statistics!

Furthermore, the batter doesn’t even have to run.  If he hits the ball but can’t make it to the other base without getting caught, he can just stay at home (and the other batter stays at second).

Another difference:  Pitches generally bounce before getting to the batter.  There’s no strike zone, as in baseball – though the ball can’t go too wide of the batter or else it won’t count as one of the fixed number of pitches in that inning.  The reason it bounces is because the pitcher is really trying to knock down the wicket behind the batter, rather than trying to strike the batter out (and the batter, of course, is trying to prevent the ball from hitting that wicket).  Also the pitcher runs up to the pitcher’s mound (which isn’t a raised mound in cricket) before throwing the ball.  Here’s a video:

There is a “home run” in cricket if the batter hits a fly ball that goes all the way out of the circle.  It’s worth 6 runs.  If the ball goes out of the circle on the ground, it’s worth an automatic 4 runs.  Anything else has to be run out.

The game I watched had 8 “overs” – an over is 6 pitches – per team.  So each team basically got to swing at 48 pitches.  In the baseball sense, then, there was only one inning (that is, each side got one turn in the field, and one turn at bat).  The pitcher (called a “bowler” in cricket) usually changed with every over, though the same bowler could throw more than one over.

And, unfortunately, I think I was a jinx.  All my questions led, perhaps, to less cheering (and, also, I’m a Red Sox fan, which couldn’t have helped) – so our team lost by about 10 runs (which is a much closer margin than it would be in baseball).

Just wait ’til next year.







Back News

My back is slowly getting better.  I’ve been going to physical therapy everyday, which has really helped.  This week, I’m going every other day – and it should be my last week.  I’m still having trouble sitting down for long periods of time, so I’ve set up a make-shift standing desk in my office.

A lot of people ask me what caused it, and I’m not exactly sure.  I had been riding in rickshaws quite a bit, and those things have practically no suspension.  That, combined with the condition of the city roads, might have contributed.  I could sometimes feel the potholes jolt my spine.  In general, though, there was no single trauma (that I can remember), so it was probably a cumulative thing.

The physical therapist gave me a bunch of exercises to do at home, and Zak really likes doing them with me:

Uno Mania & Tegwar

The kids have gotten addicted to Uno, the card game.  I’m not sure why now – we’ve had the deck forever.  But the game is on.  Uncle Faizan and Aunt Simmi have been conscripted.

When I play, there are all these new cards and rules that I don’t remember.  I’m drawing cards on every turn, it seems.  Has Uno evolved so much?  Or am I just getting old?  Though often, when I ask the kids where some strange new rule came from, they say “Uncle Faizan told us that!”.  I’m starting to suspect he’s playing a version of “Tegwar” (from the movie Bang the Drum Slowly – skip to 1:30 of the clip).

Chinese Room

I went into this restaurant, but they just kept handing me pieces of paper with scribbled symbols on them:

Sorry couldn’t resist the dumb philosophy joke.[Not as good as Steve Martin’s plumber joke.]


Some recent pics:

This dog is sleeping on a car every morning when I walk by.  Probably a good strategy for both dog and driver (who’s going to break into a car with a dog sleeping on top?).

Here’s Ahmet riding a rooster:

The new playground by our apartment finally opened (after a delay of about a month).  Its hours are quite strange, though – it’s not open when the kids are getting out of school, which was when we were hoping to make regular visits.

I posted a picture awhile back of a momma dog who just had pups in a sewer grate along the side of the road.  They’re getting big now, and still hanging around the same neighborhood.  Below are pictures from before (left) and now (right).

Faizan, inspired by my recent shot of Zak in the autorickshaw mirror (below left), took this mirror snap of me driving my scooter behind him (that’s Rizwana in the red):

We stopped at a sweets shop the other night.  Indian sweets are very sweet, and also generally very nice to look at.  Here are some pics:

I got another haircut (not much left, but it grows fast):

And Zeeshan and I have been working on a new project.  I can’t tell you what it is yet – it’s a surprise.  But here’s a sneak peek:

It’s getting late.  Time to take a cue from Zak, who can fall asleep anywhere:



Sad News, Bad Back, Bad Internet Connection, Republic Day, etc.

It’s been awhile – sorry. But I do have a doctor’s note.  More on that below.

Sad News

My grandmother, Grace Nolan, who I mentioned recently, passed away last week.  She was (almost) 92 and died in her home, with many of her children nearby.  She came a long way, from her home in Aranmore, Ireland to Salamanca, New York (with a few stops in-between).  Here’s a link to her obituary.   I wish she could’ve somehow met Farhana’s family here in India.  She and Farhana’s parents would’ve hit it off, I think.

The smell/taste of Cream of Wheat – with brown sugar and melting butter on top – always takes me back to her house on River Street in Salamanca.  And she’ll be forever associated in my mind with Elvis, because I was sitting in the kitchen in that house when the radio announcer broke in to say that The King had just passed.  I don’t think Grace was a huge fan or anything, but she was sad, nonetheless – and worried about “that poor girl” he left behind.

She spent most of her working life cooking and cleaning for the many priests who lived in the rectory house down the block (St. Patrick’s church, where my parents got married – and which is now closed – was a stone’s throw from her place).

So, unsurprisingly, she had three priests co-celebrating her funeral mass.  And bagpipes!  When I was a kid, one of the priests she worked for – Father Hogan – was my favorite.  He had a couple German Shepherds and he’d have them sit in chairs at the table and eat dinner with him – no kidding.  My grandmother was aghast, of course, but we kids loved it.  And though she’d tsk about it, she’d always laugh when she told us about his latest eccentricities.

I wish I could’ve been there for the funeral.  She will be missed.

Bad Back

Last week I started having some serious back pain.  It wasn’t completely new.  I’ve had similar pains before, including here in India, back in late-September/early-October (did I blog about it back then?  Can’t remember, and can’t check now, for reasons I’ll mention below).  And the doctor back then thought it was a bulging (spinal) disk, pressing up against a nerve.  It went away pretty quickly that time, though.  This time was different.  It started slow, but got worse and worse – none of the medicines from the last episode relieved the pain this time.  A few sleepless nights followed, and finally I went for an MRI.  Turns out the bulging disk diagnosis was correct.  I got some additional meds, and started physical therapy a few days ago.  Things are finally getting better – but slowly and incrementally.

Throughout the whole episode, I could stand and walk around without much trouble – in fact, walking seemed to help a bit.  But I couldn’t sit for any period of time, nor find a comfortable position lying down (thus the sleepless nights).  Unfortunately, I had to cancel a trip to Delhi that I was going on for Fulbright activities.  Luckily (sort of), I had already cancelled my classes for much of the week because I had that trip scheduled.  So I didn’t miss as much school as I otherwise might have.  But I was really looking forward to seeing Delhi, even though the trip was only for two days – much of it taken up with meetings.

Anyway, since typing on a computer is difficult if one cannot sit, blogging has been a bit light.  I’ve writing this post in 15-minute increments – and some of it lying down – which is still a great improvement from where I was a few days ago.  And, back to the topics of MRIs – I’m not claustrophobic at all, or at least I never thought so before, but that’s a tight fit!  For 30 minutes.  With machine gun/lightning/klaxon submarine alarm sounds going on the whole time.  It was one of the longest 1/2  hours of my life.

Not the actual machine I was in – I think mine was smaller!

Bad Internet

For the past few weeks, even when I have been able to get online it usually only lasts for a short time before the damn internet goes down.  At first I thought it was just my ancient (5 year old) MacBook acting up, but I did some experiments (my wife’s a scientist) and realized it was happening to every other device in the house as well.  It’s maddening because the signal strength stays high and everything says you’re connected – but nothing is accessible (note to self:  don’t forget to keep hitting “save draft” here).  My wife’s family tells me that this is not uncommon, and that sometimes it’s a result of competitors sabotaging each other’s equipment, to get people to change internet providers.  If we hadn’t paid for 6 months in advance, it might well have worked.

  Republic Day

On a more positive note, today was a national holiday in India called Republic Day.   The holiday is the anniversary of when India’s constitution went into effect in 1950.  That’s three years after India gained independence from Britain (Independence Day here is Aug. 15).  India’s constitution, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before, was written primarily by a man from the dalit caste  (i.e. untouchables – who are actually below the lowest caste, I think) named B. Ambedkar.

Anyway, there are huge parades in Delhi (India’s capital) and throughout the rest of the country.  We were watching on TV this morning and the Delhi parade was much like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with incredibly detailed and imaginative floats (though without the massive balloon cartoon characters).

I didn’t spot anything like that in Pune, but there were lots of vendors out selling Indian flags and other knick-knacks with India’s colors (orange, green and white). Farhana and the kids got in the spirit:

The only orange I had was my Milton Alumni baseball cap, which I proudly wore (don’t tell anyone from Syracuse!).  I have some green, but it’s nothing at all like the green in the Indian flag.  I was lying (laying?) on my back most of the day, anyway, so not many people noticed.

Kelkar Museum

Right as my back attack was coming on, we were visiting a museum in Pune that some of my students had told me about, called the Kelkar Museum.  It was a private collection that got turned into a public one and contains artifacts from all over India.  Great stuff – I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Pune.  Here are some pics:

Zak doing his elephant pose

Remembering his “crib” days fondly



Eli loved the old, carved chess sets

Making a new friend

The card above goes with the quilt next to it.  If you look closely, you can see what remains of an American flag sewn into the center of the quilt (mostly the stars on blue background, with just a touch of the red stripes still attached).  Eli said “that looks like the American flag” which prompted me to look more closely at the card.  Sure enough…

Zak was tired on the way home and I got lucky and snapped this pic in the rickshaw mirror on the way home:

Until next time – which I hope won’t take so long.



Grandma Nolan, Extension, The Big Dig, Mail, & Other Updates

Grandma Nolan

My grandmother – my mom’s mother – Grace Nolan, is having a bit of a rough time, health-wise these days.  Thoughts and prayers are welcome.  Here she is recently accepting posthumous medals for my grandfather’s WWII service from a local politician:

Grace is in the neighborhood of 90 years old and has lived an amazing life.  Born in Ireland, she was married and widowed at a very young age, thus becoming the single mother of a three-year-old daughter when she was still basically a kid herself. What she did next  blows my mind:  she got on a ship with that three-year-old (who I call Mom) and crossed the Atlantic!  Just the two of them.  They lived in Chicago at first, where Grace worked long hours at menial jobs, reluctantly leaving my mother with relatives in those early days.  Eventually, she met John Nolan, who became her husband. They settled in Salamanca, NY (where my parents both grew up), and had a bunch more kids.

Grace has great genes – many of her relatives have made it to the century mark (or come close).  Can’t wait to see her when we get back.


Speaking of getting back, I got word from Fulbright that my teaching award has officially been extended until April 30 of this year.  The original end date was March 31, but since the semester here runs into May, I applied for a one-month extension, which has now been granted.   Even with the extra month, I’ll miss a bit at the end of the term.  But it will be close enough to finish all the course material (knock wood).  Though it’s still a couple of months down the road, our departure is beginning to loom large.

Big Dig

My office at the university is a noisy place these days, as mentioned (and videotaped) in my last post.  They’re digging up the area behind our building, which was mostly used for parking, though there were some nice walls where students would sit and eat their lunches, and/or chat.  I’m not sure what it’s going to look like when it’s done, but here’s what it looks like now:

I hope it’s finished before I leave.  I’ll post some pics as they continue to work on it.


I’ve been walking with the kids to school in the morning lately, and the first thing we see when we walk down the stairs in our building is the set of apartment mailboxes (that’s ours on the top right).

The kids always get depressed when there’s nothing in there but advertisements for local chai shops and samosa stands.  I’ve been telling them that the best way to get mail is to send it, so they’ve been working on writing some actual snail-mail letters (imagine). However, if  you’ve got a few spare minutes and would like to make their day (and then some), our address is:

Flat #30
Bhatnagar Enclave
Kondhwa Khurd
Pune,  Maharashtra  411048

Postcards, cards, letters – anything except packages; we’ve learned the hard way that international packages to India are more trouble than they are worth – would put big smiles on little faces (and big ones, too).  And responses are guaranteed.



It’s slowly getting easier to get our hands on cash here.  And, just as important, the new 500 rupee notes seem to be entering into wider circulation, finally.  So getting change for the new 2000 rupee notes has become a bit easier, too.

It’s still a bit of a challenge to find an open ATM, and lines still form at machines distributing money.  But the worst seems to be over (for now, at least).  Rumors are constantly swirling about further big moves coming (e.g. I keep hearing that the new 2000-rupee notes are going to be recalled, already).  But I think they’d be crazy to do anything else that would have such a wide impact.  Somehow, Prime Minister Modi seems to have weathered the storm brought about by his demonitization policies (local elections are coming up in February, so we’ll see how his party and political allies perform soon enough).  But any further big moves would be pushing his luck, I suspect.




Free Food, Anniversary, Haircut, Table, etc.

Free Food

We had a beginning-of-semester lunch for our department this week and coincidentally, it was at the guest house where we stayed the first night we were in Pune, back in July.  The place has been newly landscaped, as has much of the university campus.  Today, in fact, they were digging up the cement walkway right outside my office window.  Loudly.


Anyway, I finally got some pictures of the philosophy department faculty and staff.  Here’s me with the rest of the full-time faculty, except for our esteemed chair, Dr. Lata Chhatre, who couldn’t make it.  The three on the right (it’s very dark, I know), closest to the camera, are all newly hired, and have added great energy to the department:

The next two pics are of office staff, including those who oversee publication of the department-based journal of Indian philosophy, and the librarian who oversees a really excellent department book collection.

They’re all tremendous and have had to put up with a lot of extra work due to my presence (since almost every hoop I have to jump through – including foreigner registration, travel, etc. – usually requires forms and/or signatures from the university).  With no complaints…to me directly…in English…

Anyway, I am now confident in proclaiming a universal truth of academia:  free food necessarily produces enthusiastic participation.  With the following corollary:  pizza does not, apparently, cross all boundaries as free food of choice.  Yet.


Farhana and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary this past weekend – Jan. 7 (note to self:  check this blog next December to remind yourself of the date).

It was a good excuse to dress up and eat good food with family at Gulistan:

Farhana’s mom and dad posed for this “old and new” photo that came out great:

Simmi is the master of the group selfie.  Here’s the secret – distance and height:

Both of which I ignored:


I’m glad I still have a bit of hair left on this trip, because an Indian haircut is an experience to be treasured.

You get the traditional clippers and scissors treatment, of course.  Additionally, for a few extra rupees, they trim the beard and mustache, and…I kid you not…ear hair and nose hair!  And just when you think it can’t get any better, you get a full scalp massage.  It takes about 45 minutes and the total price is approximately 100 rupees – less than $2.  Tipping is not too common in India, but I feel morally obligated to give generously for this kind of service.  In fact, I’m thinking of bringing an army of Indian barbers back with me to the US and starting a franchise.  I think it’d make millions.

Or maybe billions.  I haven’t even mentioned the most amazing thing about the experience – no post-haircut itchy shirt syndrome!  If I can bring that to America, the sky’s the limit.


The table is finally done.  It’s not perfect.  There are definitely flaws.  But given the circumstances, including almost getting beat up (twice!) trying to buy wood, we’re pretty happy.






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