Getting from here to there in Trivandrum

One of the greatest day to day challenges of getting to the hospital to volunteer was transportation to and from the guest apartment. There was not really the option to walk, or bike for 8 kilometers. I tried auto rickshaws,IMG_5384 an easily maneuverable three wheeled vehicle—it is quick but usually requires price negotiation with the drivers. My apartment mate, Anne, was good to take me on the buses when she was in town or when we left the hospital at the same time. The bus is clearly my preference.

But how to determine which bus is mine when Anne is not with me? The buses are not numbered, and Malayalam bus placards did not have a recognizable word for me.


Malayalam, Hindi and English script

At first, I just got on the buses with a notebook –with my destination written in Malayalam. That did not work, as I usually got on the wrong bus. The conductor sucked his teeth (a universal communication tool) and had me get off at the next stop.

The next strategy worked like a charm. I should have known that “relationship” is the key. Anne had been very social at the bus stop.  I smiled at these bus friends at the bus stop and asked them, with my destination written down in Malayalam to make sure that I got on the right bus.  As long as I am out there by the 8:05 AM bus, I was in the chips.


Inbound bus friends: Dhanya, Punyia, Anne, and Revi

It worked well. One time, the conductor tapped my shoulder to have me get off at a hospital on the way, and there was a chorus from my bus friends seated distantly from me that he was mistaken about my stop. Then Revi looked for me every morning.

Getting home was more challenging but equally charming. Chaithanya Mohandas, (a web designer with Leonine Info Solution located right at West Fort) was very happy to help me get on the crowded 5:15 bus. Once, through mass motion only understood by a bus passenger, I got moved toward the front of the bus away from the door. When it was approaching time for me to get off, I started to move toward the door with my yoga mat catching on everyone’s clothes and purses. Amazingly I got off that bus, rumpled but intact. The next time I got the bus with Chaithanya, she parked me right where she could guard me against movement down the bus aisle.


Outbound bus stop friend, Chaithanya

Why do I prefer to take the bus? In part, it is the higher viewpoint, away from the exhaust. But more important, it is the connection with the every day, the unexpected, the hilarious. I am more apt to see the fruit stand, the cricket game, bananas sticking out of a rickshaw, regular people on their way to work looking fresh in saris…6 days a week. From that vantage point, I see whole families on motorcycles (not hilarious). And then there is the time that an elephant went by in a truck.

It is a little restrictive to ONLY know how to travel back and forth at a certain time. I decided to take yoga-which is only offered at 6:15 AM and 6:15 PM. I like the 6:15AM yoga-doing the sun salutation with 30 Keralites on a rooftop is a peaceful way to start the day. Along came Vijay-a rickshaw driver who was willing to come at early hours to get me to yoga on time or pick me up at night. No haggling—he had a set price for going the 8 kilometres—a price that was worth it to make it to yoga.


Vijay drives so smoothly that I can drink coffee

In international stays, it takes a while to make life work. Sometimes it starts working just before it is time to leave. Which means I will have to come back!

Thank you to my friends—Anne, Dhanya, Punyia, Chaitanya, Revi and Vijay. You made life work.

Oh, and happy leap day birthday to my childhood friend, Andy Tuthill, who has had 15 birthdays.



Yoga at Kovallum Beach (I am not there…yet)


An outward expression of grief

The Taj Mahal is my husband’s favorite place on earth. He always wanted us to go together because he found it so spectacular in different lights. Last year, we celebrated 30 years of marriage and tomorrow, February 15th, will be the 31st anniversary of our engagement. We decided, earlier this month, that seeing the Taj Mahal together was a good anniversary gift to each other.

We arrived on a Thursday night to Agra after an easy drive from Delhi. The Taj is closed on Friday. But that did not stop my husband from enjoying the Taj Mahal. We saw it on Friday from the massive Agra Fort,
IMG_5409 and then again at sunset from across the river.
IMG_5443Even the guide joked that my husband wanted to make sure it was still there. We got up early to see it in the early morning light on Saturday.


We have 50 more of these photos.  Invite us for dinner!

The Makrana marble reflects light differently, and the inlaid stones and carving are an artisan masterpiece.

It is very symmetrical except at the site of the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal whose graves are not identical.

You might recall that I was able to parlay a visit to Death Valley National Park into a blog about palliative care. It might seem a stretch that I will make a blog about the Taj Mahal into a palliative care topic. But read on…

Mumtaz Mahal, (“the jewel of the court”), the 3rd wife of Shah Jahan was a Muslim from Persia. She married the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1612 when she was 19 years old. She was his favorite wife and companion. But in 1631, she died during the birth of their 14th child. The emperor’s grief was profound, and he ordered the court to remain in mourning for 2 years. He promised her he would never remarry and that he would build a memorable mausoleum in her honor.

Shah Jahan enlisted an architect, and 22,000 laborers who worked along with 1000 elephants for 22 years to build the Taj with semi-precious and precious gemstones and Makrana marble from Rajastan. Shah Jahan spent 32 million rupees in 1632-1653, which is the equivalent of $1,062,834,098 (yep, a billion) in today’s US dollars. His son deposed him soon after the Taj was built. Shah Jahan had started to build a second black marble Taj when his son placed him under house arrest (to stop this expenditure?). Shah Jahan lived in the Agra Fort (in very regal quarters), where he had a view of the Taj Mahal. At his death, he was buried at the side of his favorite wife who predeceased him by 35 years.

As a palliative care professional, I certainly encourage grieving family members, friends, (and health care professionals) to have some outward expression of their grief- a letter, a bench in a park, a memorial fund. It allows the mourning to be shared with others in a symbolic and externalized way. If I had been part of his bereavement team, I might have discouraged Shah Jahan from spending the empire’s money in this way, worried that it was driven by guilt and might cause some complex family emotions. But hey! Full employment for 22,000 people could be considered a good thing.

And for the love of my life and me….we are very glad he showed his love and grief in this way. Happy anniversary Stanley.


Notice the silly man on the right…I would never do that!