South India 2015

Table of Contents

South India: The Fascinating Tamil Nadu and Kerala

In 1981, I embarked on a two-year hitchhiking trip that took me to India and Nepal for six months. The experience was transformative, leaving an indelible mark on my soul.

Fast forward to today, I’m excited to embark on another journey to South India, where I’ll be meeting my brother, Israel Gev, at Auroville – a universal town where people from different cultures and backgrounds can live together in harmony and peace, pursuing spiritual growth and self-realization. We have plans to go scuba diving in the picturesque Andaman Islands, and I can’t wait to immerse myself in the vibrant underwater world.

Later on, my beloved, Danna Sigal, will be joining me for a South India tour, where we’ll be exploring two states – Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I’m eager to see how the region has evolved since my first visit and indulge in the delicious local cuisine, take in the breathtaking landscapes, and soak up the rich culture and traditions of the people. It promises to be a fascinating journey, and I’m thrilled to be embarking on it.

As I embark on this journey, I am reminded of a poem by John O’Donohue and want to be cognizant of its message.

For the Traveler

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you


Travel Route: Mamallapuram – Auroville – Pondicherry

Unveiling Mamallapuram: The Historic Coastal Town of Tamil Nadu

Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, India, is a coastal town known for its ancient Pallava dynasty-supported temples and monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shore Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the most famous structure. Mamallapuram’s other landmarks include the Five Rathas, the Descent of the Ganges, and the Varaha Cave Temple, adorned with intricate stone carvings depicting Hindu mythology and daily life. In addition to cultural attractions, visitors enjoy beaches, Bay of Bengal views, and traditional handicrafts like stone sculptures and wood carvings sold in nearby markets.

Auroville’s Epic Journey: Israel Gev’s Role in Creating a Green Paradise

Nestled amidst the arid expanse of southern India lies Auroville – a utopian community that has transcended boundaries of religion, nationality, and race. In its early days, the pioneers of Auroville were confronted with a seemingly insurmountable challenge – transforming the barren desert landscape into a thriving oasis. The cooperative engaged in a series of debates and discussions on how to achieve this daunting feat and ultimately turned to Israel, a hydrology expert with a Ph.D., to lead the charge.

Israel Gev’s expertise and vision were instrumental in identifying the tree species that could create the desired microclimate shift. With unwavering determination and perseverance, the Aurovillians embarked on a massive afforestation drive. Fast forward thirty years and the landscape of Auroville is a testament to their hard work and dedication. The once-barren land is now teeming with lush greenery, thriving flora and fauna, and abundant natural resources.

Israel’s contribution to the transformation of Auroville into a verdant paradise has been invaluable, and the locals revere him as a celebrity of sorts. His visits to the community are a cause for celebration and an opportunity for the current generation of Aurovillians to learn from his vast knowledge and experience. Indeed, the transformation of Auroville is a testament to the power of collective action and the unwavering commitment to a shared vision of a better world.

Auroville and the Matrimandir: Building a Sustainable and Inspirational Community

Auroville is an international community founded in 1968. Of the 3000 residents, 900 are Indian, and most international residents are French. Auroville is near Pondicherry, a former French colony.

My beloved partner Danna Sigal wrote these visit impressions:

Auroville is a utopian community dedicated to peace and service of the divine, with no religious affiliation. The Matrimandir is at the center of the community, and our visit was a most powerful experience, both a spiritual and architectural highlight. The serenity of the building and its surroundings is in stark contrast to the many glorious South Indian Hindu temples, which are colorful and chaotic, filled with throngs of visitors, fire, music, chanting, incense, and thousands of images of the deities in various incarnations.

The procession from the road to the inner chamber of the Matrimandir is carefully orchestrated as a preparation to quiet the mind for the meditation experience. After parking your bike, Vespa, or car, all electronic devices must be turned off and placed into a locker at check-in before crossing the expansive gardens under the blazing Indian sun in silence to the gigantic Banyan tree. At the appointed time, the visitor is escorted in silence down a ramp between 20+ foot high canted red sandstone walls, deposits their shoes, then ascends the stairs to the Matrimandir entrance.

Once inside, the overwhelming feeling is simply awe. As the eyes and body are adjusting to the cool interior, the visitor is seated on a white marble bench, retrieves white socks (from compartments where they are folded and stacked like the 4 points of a compass), and places them on bare feet to protect the white Himalayan wool carpet of the inner chamber.

Thanks to poured-in-place concrete technology and the hands of hundreds of ex-pat acolytes tying rebar in the 1960s, the exquisitely-detailed spherical space inside the Matrimandir is covered in subtle golden LED backlit triangles. Once feet are properly covered, the visitors begin ascending the spiral ramp around a central column of light, which is reminiscent of the “fountain of youth” scene from 8-1/2.

Slowly, quietly, deliberately, taking in the enormity of the space.

Finally arriving at the central chamber, a greeter escorts each visitor to one of 84 white meditation cushions around 12 columns. At the center of the chamber sits a crystal sphere lit from a small skylight above, refracting a column of light that illuminates the space and descends through the entire sphere down to the lotus leaf fountain on the earth below.

The experience reminds me of an exquisitely executed solution to our first architecture school assignment, where we were asked to create a pavilion on a blank canvas. Much consideration was offered to designing our structures and sculpting our canvases to create an experiential procession imbued with profound meaning and a sense of awe. The Matrimandir is inspirational as both a building and an experience. The Aurovillian spirit of hope, community, and perseverance is palpable here and extends throughout the community. Auroville has built a sustainable, carbon-positive (they create more energy than they use) culture of experimentation that continues to expand today.

The Matrimandir: A Shrine to the Ineffable

Upon entering the main chamber, I had to take a deep breath. If there is a way to bring the eternal to earth – the Matrimandir does it. A sense of nothingness, emptiness, and beauty are at the core of the Matrimandir. It’s a shrine dedicated to the ineffable – which is too great to describe in words. It’s a space void of objects, but the most elemental one is a beam of light, which says everything.

Travel Route: Andaman – Port Blair – Havelock Island – Barefoot Resort

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands: A Reflection on the History and Significance of India’s Island Territories

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a set of 572 islands located in the Bay of Bengal. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited. A few of these 36 are occupied by aboriginal tribes, opposing civilized interference. The climate is tropical, sweltering hot, and very humid. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are 745 miles (1200km) from the Indian mainland but only 30 miles (50km) from Myanmar and 55 miles (90km) from Indonesia. How come, then, that this string of islands is part of India?

Andaman and Nicobar were abandoned islands but for some aboriginal natives. During the colonization of India, British officials were posted there. But due to thick forest cover, wild animals, and mosquitoes, the Islands were abandoned, which made its location perfect for a jail site.

The Indian fight for independence started long before Gandhi came to the scene, and the British repeatedly crushed any attempt at revolt. Since 1857 political prisoners were sent to Port Blair’s infamous Cellular jail. During WWII, Japan and Subhash Chandra Bose fought against the British in Burma and North East India.

As soon as Japan took over parts of Northeast India along with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, they were given to Subhash Chandra Bose. Thus, Andaman and Nicobar Islands became the first territories of Independent India. By the war’s end, Japan lost, and Andaman and Nicobar fell again into British hands. Once India became Independent, the Andaman and Nicobar became part of the new India.

The Vision of Subhas Chandra Bose: A Reflection on India’s Modern Future as a Militarily and Economically Strong World Power

We associate the Indian fight for freedom from British colonialism with Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent approach. Still, there were other Indian leaders with alternative models to achieve independence. Subhas Chandra Bose became a leading advocate for violence as the only effective way to expel the British and simultaneously restore Indian self-esteem. His story and adventures are pretty fascinating. He cooperated with Nazi Germany and Japan in the war against the Allies in Southeast Asia.

In 1943, Bose traveled by German submarine around Africa’s southern tip to rendezvous with a Japanese submarine. The Japanese had captured some 70,000 Indian soldiers, many of them abandoned by their British officers when Singapore fell suddenly in early 1942. The Japanese then released about 40,000 of these prisoners of war to form the Indian National Army and invade India under Bose’s command.

While small parts of India fell to the Indian National Army, the war was already entering its final stages.   The Indian National Army took heavy losses. When the Japanese finally surrendered unconditionally in August 1945, so did the Indian National Army. Bose himself tried to escape to continue the war of liberation, only to have his overloaded plane crash in Taiwan. Some Indians still see him as the inspiring figure for India’s modern future as a militarily and economically strong world power, which is far from the model of India that Gandhi wanted.

Bose’s vision of India became a reality in the last few decades. The Indian army is the third-largest in the world. India has fought four wars with its neighbors and is armed with nuclear weapons. Further, India is an emerging global economic power. All this is much closer to Bose’s vision than to Gandhi’s.

The Devastation of the 2004 Tsunami on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The islands are a bit north of the earthquake epicenter. The tsunami waves reached a height of 49ft (15m) within minutes; as a result, some of the islands were submerged. The Nicobar Islands were the worst hit among all the islands because of their relatively flat terrain. The unofficial death toll, including those missing and presumed dead, is estimated at 7,000. The 2004 Tsunami took over 230,000 victims throughout Southeast Asia. It is considered the deadliest in history.

Travel Route: Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram – Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur – Srirangam Temple in Trichy

The Many Gods of Hinduism: A Manifestation of a Single Unity

Tamil Nadu State is known for its significant number of Hindu temples, more than any other state in India. Tamil people’s devotion to their religious beliefs is fervent. Thus, it is a common belief that the birthplace of Hinduism was Tamil Nadu.

Hinduism is more than a religion – it is a culture, a way of life, and a code of behavior. This view is reflected in a term Indians use to describe the Hindu religion: Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal faith or the everlasting way things are. The caste system is the most potent manifestation of this philosophy.

Hindu practices of worship and rituals reveal the profound importance of religious imagery. While in most other religious traditions, images are believed to represent holy personages or are altogether forbidden, in Hindu practice, painted and sculpted images are believed to genuinely embody the divine.

In Hinduism, there are many Gods. Believers develop a preference for one deity while not excluding or disbelieving in others. All Gods are seen as a manifestation of a single unity – the Brahman. The main three Gods are Brahma – the creator; Vishnu – the protector; and Shiva – the destroyer (of evil). And then there are plenty of other deities. If I were a Hindu and had a choice, I would follow Vishnu; something about the protector’s power appeals to me.

The Caste System in India: A Barrier to Social Mobility

I would have revolted if I were born into a specific caste other than the Brahmin, the top caste in the hierarchy. In a society emphasizing Dharma, the law of the universe, the mobility options to improve one’s life are constrained and limited to the caste or the many sub-guilds one is born into.

These norms were established to maintain a particular order and system. And they were reinforced in the religious scripts such as the Bhagavad-Gita, when Krishna says to the tormented Arjuna, who ponders the devastating consequences of the battle he is about the embark upon: “Now if you do not execute this battle, then having given up your personal dharma and reputation, you shall incur sin.”

As a warrior and a military leader, you have a duty that stands above all other considerations. Unsurprisingly, many throughout the centuries converted to other religions: Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity.

The Importance of Moksha in Hindu Beliefs: A Reflection on the Ultimate Spiritual Goal

Hindus believe in Karma, the universal law of cause and effect. They also believe in Moksha, the possibility of liberation and release—a stage where the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) is resolved. Moksha is the ultimate spiritual goal of Hinduism.

Moksha and Nirvana: The Quest for Liberation

Hinduism and Buddhism focus on liberation from the endless cycle of samsara – the endless cycle of birth and death and the suffering that comes with that cycle. Yet they are slightly different. I’ll try to explain:

Moksha means “release” in the sense of “letting go.” Moksha is letting go of the repeated birth and death of the physical body – reincarnation. Because Hindu teaching includes the notion of a soul, or “atman,” when someone attains Moksha, their soul merges with Brahman – the source of all existence. In Buddhism, liberation from samsara is called Nirvana. This term means “extinction” or “blowing out,” like extinguishing a burning flame.

In Buddhist teaching, humans are bound to samsara through the flames of anger, ignorance, and desire. So, in Buddhism, when one attains Nirvana, one extinguishes anger, ignorance, and desire. 

The difference between Moksha and Nirvana is subtle and delicate. In Buddhism, humans escape life and death by extinguishing anger, ignorance, and desire, even though the physical body may still be alive (death is not a prerequisite for Nirvana). This is why Buddhists talk of rebirth rather than reincarnation. A Buddhist who has attained Nirvana is unchained from anger, which focuses on the past; ignorance, which focuses on the present; and desire, which focuses on the future. Nirvana is the extinction of time, and since life and death are bound by time, Nirvana is the freedom from life and death.

The Bustling Disorder and Chaos of Indian Cities: A Reflection on the Energy and Buzz

Driving through any city in India, you’ll see bustling disorder and chaos. You’ll see people on motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and cars. You’ll see city streets where the infrastructure is clearly not up to par – they’re inadequate in size and too narrow. The saris, buildings, and shops are all in contrasting colors – high energy and buzz.

Travel Route: Madurai

Madurai: The Ancient Capital of South India

“There are millions of gods, beta, but all represent aspects of three, and all three are really one. Brahma is the Generator, Vishnu the Organizer, and Shiva the Destroyer. Together they are G.O.D. or Brahman. All the millions of Hindu gods are just forms of the one Supreme Being.” – Sarah Macdonald

Madurai is the ancient capital of South India and Tamil Nadu’s second-largest city. With four great gate towers rising over 150 ft high, at its heart is the labyrinth, “Gothic” Meenakshi Temple, where we attended a night darshan ceremony.

Darshan: The Hindu Ritual of Making Eye Contact with the Divine

A key concept in worshipping Hindu deities is making eye contact with the deity. This special ceremony is called Darshan. Making direct visual contact with the God or Goddess is a two-sided event; the worshiper sees the divinity, and the deity likewise sees the devotee. This ritualistic viewing occurs between devotees and God in intimate domestic spaces and crowded temple complexes. It can take place even when an individual is in a crowd of thousands of other worshipers. By having direct eye contact with God’s image, the worshipper receives energy and blessings from the deity.

Women’s Empowerment Conferences: A Powerful Day of Inspiration and Learning, by Danna Sigal

It is easy to minimize the importance of Women’s Empowerment Conferences, having been raised within a culture and community that encouraged girls not only to dream big but expected us to pursue and achieve those dreams.

In India, it’s quite a different story – the dual standard is the norm, and only 20% of women work outside the home; we are all familiar with the recent cry of “enough is enough”  to end violence against women, and The Hindu Newspaper reported yesterday that although female infanticide rates are declining, there are 10% fewer girl babies born due to aborting after ultrasound shows a female fetus. (this is a chilling fact)

It’s true that culture trumps strategy, and yesterday we got a whiff of the future while attending the Women’s Entrepreneur Conference and International Women’s Day celebration with 400 others. It was a powerful day. Wonderful to meet new friends, including Meera, who, after a chance meeting at breakfast, invited us as her guests to the conference; Sundar, who was attending with his family to watch his wife accept an award; and a group of bubbly and ambitious college women. And the sari’s were fabulous.

The gem for me was listening to the Chapter founder and chairwoman’s speech, Dr. Rajakumari Jeevagan, who was introduced as “a great leader who teaches us constantly what it is to be human,” a quality I have not often heard at business conferences.

She spoke at a dizzying speed alternately in Tamil and English and touched on many familiar topics: open mindset, stem teaching, flexible thinking, the importance of adding value, and the speed of change (“when you start standing, you will be swallowed’).

The exciting part was the ideas I have not heard discussed much in business circles, bringing meaning into one’s life and the lives of others, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual values into your work, and how one must have good intentions and do good work. She closed with a classic life lesson and an important reminder: it’s not what you have; it’s what you do with what you have.

I am grateful to this group for warmly welcoming us and sharing their path with us.


Travel Route: Munnar

Munnar: A Tea Lover’s Paradise

“On the hills of Munnar, the clouds will come and kiss your feet.” – Mohan, Indian Sweet & Spices’ owner

In Kerala’s mountains at 1,700m (5,600f) sits Munnar, a center of tea plantations. There are panoramic views of green tea plants rolled over the hills like a carpet.

During the 17th century, drinking tea became popular in Britain. China was the sole source of British tea. Thus, to compete with the Chinese monopoly, the British introduced tea production and consumption in India. Today, India is the world’s largest tea consumer and the second-largest tea producer. Darjeeling tea is India’s most famous tea.

Kathakali: A Unique Indian Classical Dance and Drama Method

Kathakali is an Indian classical dance and drama method unique to Kerala. It is known for gestures like pantomime and heavy makeup. It tells stories of love and power based on classical Indian texts.

A Tour of the Cinnamon Spice Garden

We could not avoid, nor did we try to, the Cinnamon Spice Garden, a stop that every local taxi driver wants to take you to because of the commission they receive for every purchase you make. The Garden houses more than 100 varieties of trees and herbs unique to the vegetation of Kerala. The pharmacy store and the sales pitch are at the end of the tour.

Travel Route: Kerala Backwaters

A Relaxing Getaway: Two Days on a Houseboat in Kerala’s Backwaters

It’s a relaxing experience to spend two full days on a houseboat at Kerala’s backwaters. Pampered and fed with delicious Keralan cuisine by Anish, the captain, and Unni, his assistant. You watch the local way of life: the bus boats, the school transportation, the fish seller in his canoe announcing his fresh catch, the schoolboy led by an older man across the waters just in time for his school boat, the men bathing, washing, and beating their clothes on rocks.

A lush green tropical forest, coconut, banana trees, and rice paddies surround all. The backwaters are a labyrinthine network of interconnected canals and rivers that meet the Arabian Sea. It has a unique ecosystem where freshwater from the river meets the salty water from the ocean.

A Close Encounter with a Houseboat Stowaway, by Danna Sigal

After a delicious dinner of prawns, chicken, rice, and curry, we relaxed in the comfy chairs of the front deck. The lights were off to discourage mosquitos from snacking on us further, so it was dark. David went to have a sip of a beverage. As he brought the glass to his mouth, something leaped past his cheek. Deciding that was probably not the best glass to drink from, David then picked up the other glass and took a drink, but felt something odd… 

I brought out my trusty iPhone flashlight as this little guy peeked his head out to say hello. By the time I got the camera working (there was a lot of excitement), he had already jumped out of the glass. Here is his portrait, taken near the steering wheel.

How to Stay Healthy in a Challenging Environment

Traveling in India can be hard on the body, which might be the case everywhere, particularly in South India. The heat, humidity, and mosquitoes are sure to get you some sickness: cold, diarrhea, or skin rash. Something will happen; it’s unavoidable, and the best is to be prepared with medication for the most common ailments.

Kerala’s Communist Party: A Legacy of Education and Healthcare

A century after Bolsheviks swarmed the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Indian state of Kerala, home to 35 million people, remains one of the few places on earth where a communist can still dream. Kerala’s Communist party embraced electoral politics and, since 1957, has been routinely voted into power. Instead of being associated with repression or failure, Marx’s party is widely associated with considerable investments in education that have produced a 95 percent literacy rate, the highest in India. In addition to a healthcare system where citizens who earn only a few dollars a day qualify for free heart surgery.

Our experience with Kerala’s politics forced us to leave our floating hotel boat at 5 am because a transportation strike took effect at 6 am. The Communist party, which is NOT in power, was pissed off because they did not like the State Governors’ budget. The State Assembly was in mayhem yesterday. Three women parliamentarians had to fight out of the crowd and resort to biting, sending one man to the hospital to get a tetanus shot. All were reported in detail in the morning newspaper. Our captain and his assistant sneaked us out on a canoe to a private car, not a taxi, and through eerily empty roads, we arrived at Kochi, our last stop.

Travel Route: Kochi

The Second Kochi Biennale: A Feast for the Senses

“Kochi, formerly called Cochin, is a former European settlement with a large Christian population and a seafaring heritage. It is a town of enormous charm that reminds some visitors of the Caribbean more than India.” – Gary Weiss

Kochi, or Cochin, as it used to be called, is an international city and an artist community. It felt familiar, maybe because it was a Dutch and later a British colony. Our neighborhood has many old, dilapidated buildings mixed with funky, hip boutique shops, restaurants, and hostels.

We visited while the second Kochi Biennale was taking place. The creative energy and enthusiastic crowds dominated the exhibit’s venues. It was a treat!  

Danna’s description of the experience:

We learned about the Second Kochi Biennale from a terrific group of Indian architecture students and decided to spend a few days in Kochi. It was a treat indeed, seeing the great art and, even more, getting a bit of insight into the contemporary Indian art scene and how the curators, artists, and attendees see themselves in relation to the global community.

The exhibition is spread throughout the city. The theme of Whirled Views/Whorled Explorations is set with a sprinkling of videos, including the Eames’ ‘Powers of Ten’ and different episodes of Michael Stevens ‘Vsauce’ at several venues. The curators gathered artists looking back to history, creating the future, and mixing it up with culture, science, and a little magic to serve up a feast for the senses.

When science and mathematics are illustrated thoughtfully with a fine craft and whim, they hold a beauty that is beyond cultural aesthetics. There were two examples in particular that knocked my socks off (or would have if it was cool enough to wear socks)

The first is a model train installation by Ryota Kuwakubo, a Japanese artist, who placed a landscape of materials from local Kochi markets around a model train track, illuminating the locomotive light. At the same time, the rest of the room was dark. The shadows cast on the room’s four walls by the various objects are sometimes evocative of forests, cities, crowds, and other times only familiar to the subconscious. However, the experience is delicious and mesmerizing. (Photo is with the lights ON)

The second is an interactive piece that feels like Alice in Wonderland but is called “Between the Pages” by Indian artist Sumakshi Singh. The catalog says that the piece refers to ‘the history of Kerala, both as a protagonist in the maritime voyages of the 14-17th centuries and as a vibrant center where early astronomer-mathematicians fiercely pursued the problems of locating themselves and the earth within the cosmos. Singh uses paper scrolls illustrated with lyrical hand drawings and projected moving images to create a stage set that the viewer both moves through and then inhabits as the hidden cameras capture the viewers and project them onto a screen.

The exhibition runs through the end of March, but the team is already planning the next one in 2016, so there is plenty of time to make travel arrangements!

Kerala’s Jewish Community: A 2500-Year History of Peaceful Coexistence

Jews have lived in Kerala since the days of King Solomon. From the 5th to the 15th century, Jews had an independent principality ruled by a prince of their own choice. Mr. George, the Cochin synagogue usher, told us about two sub-groups of Jews within the community: one kept the name Pardesi, meaning “foreigners.” They claimed direct descent from Yemeni Jewish people. Ranked below them were people who became known as Black Jews. They have mixed Indian and Yemeni ancestry.

During the 1950s, most of the community emigrated to Israel, closing a circle that started over 2500 years ago. It is important to note that Kerala’s Jews lived in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors for most of those years, unlike their fellow Jews in Europe and Arab countries.

India’s Economy: A Great Success Story or a Work in Progress?

Some say India’s economy will rank third worldwide by 2030 – I am skeptical. India is a place of great fusion between West and East, a place of many religions and ethnicities; thus, its founders believed that the only forces that could free the people from the weight of the past are: democracy and secularism. From that perspective, India is a great success story because overall, tolerance, acceptance, and lively political life are the rule.

Unfortunately, colonialism’s wounds pushed its founders to create a self-sufficient economy void of competition and free of capital flow. A failed economy was built in the process, which only since the mid-90s is attempting to change. Yet the system could be more efficient. The bureaucratic machine is slow and cumbersome. Unless one “greases” the way, not much can be accomplished. For example, if you have an electrical problem at your house and you call the municipality for service, you need to pay someone under the table; otherwise, you must wait a long time before a maintenance specialist will show up. In the West, it is considered corruption; in India, it’s a way of life.

How does that relate to my experiences of feeling frustrated while traveling in India? There is a saying, “Expectations are resentments under construction.” When I apply my “American norms” to some encounters, it is no surprise that I can get frustrated. For example, business deals not getting fulfilled as promised, dealing with government bureaucracy, and negotiating a purchase price can be challenging. My advice is to stay out of your expectations and instead adjust to the Indian flow of things, use curiosity, a smile, and joy, and always remember the Golden Rule: “Whoever has the gold has the power.”

My reading recommendations

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

The Far Field: A Novel, by Madhuri Vijay

Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie

The Secrets Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar

Sea of Poppies, Ibis Trilogy Book 1, by Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke, Ibis Trilogy, Book 2, by Amitav Ghosh

Flood of Fire, Ibis Trilogy, Book 3, by Amitav Ghosh

The Story of India, by Michael Wood

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo

The Last Jews of Kerala, by Edna Fernandes

An Area of Darkness, by V. S. Naipaul

Gun Island, by Amitav Ghosh

2019 How Modi Won India, by Rajdeep Sardesai

 Shadow Princess, The Taj Mahal Trilogy, Book 3, by Indu Sundaresan

The Feast of Roses, The Taj Mahal Trilogy, Book 2, by Indu Sundaresan

The Twentieth Wife, The Taj Mahal Trilogy, Book 1, by Indu Sundaresan

Being Different, An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, by Rajiv Malhotra

Better to Have Gone, Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville, by Akash Kapur

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese