They say history repeats itself…

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After giving up the idea of heading further north, put off by the weather and reports of incredibly deteriorating roads, we went to a neighboring village. Rumtek is a lovely peaceful little hillside village with two active Buddhist monasteries. We watched the monks chanting, accompanied by horns and conches. It was just before lunch and as they served food to the monks, we were included! On the monastery grounds we found a very basic but squeaky clean guesthouse. After complimentary chai, we settled into our room with attached bath. Going in to use the toilet, it partially registered to me that the water tank had a slant. With a typical heavy hand, I still proceeded to flush –  and the whole tank came off the wall, water splashing everywhere! When Gerard came in to see what the commotion was, the look on his face brought me back to a similar incident that happened in our early years.

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On my first trip to Tunisia, we stopped in Gabes, a southern coastal town, for several days. On our way to the beach one morning, I had an urgent need to use a toilet, so while Gerard waited on the street I dived into a café. A crowd of men were standing around a television watching an international soccer game. There was a lot of excitement. I was directed to the bathroom. To my surprise, this dusty town was sporting a newly renovated western style bathroom, with a sparkling white porcelain toilet and washbasin, shiny new fixtures. Totally unexpected in southern Tunisia. Above the toilet sat the water tank with a long dangling chain (just as we had back in England in the old days). Having relieved myself I reached up and yanked on the chain expecting water to gush into the toilet. Instead, the tank flew off the wall, crashing into the washbasin below, totally demolishing it. Apparently the water tank had not yet been properly secured to the wall and my yanking was too much for it. In one short moment, Kali (the Lord of Destruction), in the form of myself had done its work. In a state of shock and disbelief, I opened the door expecting a mob of irate Tunisians descending on me. But to my wonderment, it was as though nothing had happened. Holding my breath, I hustled myself through the soccer-absorbed fans. Still in disbelief, I told Gerard “We’ve got to get the hell out of here!”  “Why?…What?” Just keep moving…..” WHAT?”  “I’ll tell you in a minute.  Get away from this street!” In the refuge of the palm trees down by the beach, I related my story as he listened with gaping mouth and bulging eyes. For the remainder of our stay in Gabes, we made sure we never went anywhere near that street!

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Meanwhile back in Rumtek Gerard, the Guru of all things mundane, got out his Swiss army knife and was able to clip the water tank back on the wall –albeit temporarily. The rest of our stay was less eventful. Early the next morning, in bright sunshine, we walked out to the other monastery and arrived just as the monks were again chanting before eating their breakfast. Beautiful countryside and so many spring flowers along the way.

P1060891We left Sikkim for Siliguri a few days early to meet up with our British friend Jonny who we’d missed in Goa this year. We’ve developed an increasingly close relationship with him over the past few years as he’s dug himself out of a deep hole physically and emotionally. He’s very open with us about all that he’s gone through, the more so for being a Brit! The following day, the Australians we kept running into also joined us, and by sheer coincidence were on the same train back to Delhi. A day of rest and relaxation in an upscale hotel with a good restaurant was just what we needed before starting our last train ride.

The Rajdhani Express is a cut above the snail mail “express” that we usually seem to end up on. Clean and comfortable with frequently supplied meals and snacks Being in their early thirties they of course didn’t know who that was, but immediately pulled up pictures of her on their smartphone. We have shared train compartments with so many families in the past years but these two girls were extraordinary in their maturity at such a young age. Spending the twenty-hour journey with such a lovely family was a perfect end to this year’s trip.helped the journey fly by. Our carriage companions were a couple from Assam with two engaging girls of four and eight.  The older spoke perfect English, and had the mannerisms of a young woman. Gerard was fascinated and told her parents she looked just like a young Natalie Wood.

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Since the last time we were in Delhi back in January, our Indian family had moved to Gurgaon a rapidly growing suburb of hi tech businesses and shopping malls. But the Mahajans live beside an older neighborhood that is still made up of small businesses and shops. While Gerard helped Bhushan deal with the frustrations of house renovation and “managing” the workers – I went to back to work. My colleague of over 20 years at Yankee Group, Berge Ayvazian, just happened to be hosting a two-day conference in Gurgaon while we were there. It was too much of a coincidence to ignore, and he persuaded me to attend as an industry analyst. Briefly put, 4G World India focused on the opportunity for mobile broadband communications. Gerard thought I was crazy to want to spend our last two days in Delhi holed up in a conference, plus I’d have to go and buy business clothes to wear. But I couldn’t resist playing the role of analyst again and in the context of India. One of the highlights of my job was working in foreign countries, which gave me a unique sense of being more than just a tourist. After four months of living out of a suitcase, it was a change to put on new “business” clothes, and hail a rickshaw on my own and find my way to the Epicentre. And there was Berge up on the stage preparing to open the conference – just like old times! It was good to play that role again. It was already late, but we were on “Indian time” and no one cared too much about keeping to the clock. And to break up the day, there were plenty of chai and biscuit breaks and an Indian multi course buffet lunch (veg and nonveg) that would have put the average American business person to sleep for the afternoon!

On the second day of the conference, Berge asked me to participate with a couple of other analysts in a roundtable discussion. If he’d asked me in advance I would have felt the need to prepare more, but it was an informal ad lib conversation. I was asked to give examples from my own experience of the pent-up demand for mobile broadband service particularly in rural areas (where 70% Indians live) – the young girl trying to watch a movie on a very basic mobile phone; a teenage daughter hi-jacking her mother’s phone to read Facebook; the driver of our shared taxi using his mobile to play music propping it up on the dashboard so we could all hear the tinny sound and see the gyrating performers (whether we wanted to or not). For many Indians, their mobile phone has become their computer. Quite incredible given that when we first came to India 30 years ago, only a handful of homes had a telephone and if they did it was virtually impossible to make a connection. The average Indian had no experience with telecommunications at all.  Today, the mobile phone is a prize possession prioritized over some of the basic commodities of life.

But by the end of two days I’d heard and said enough – with some relief I escaped the air-conditioned convention center, hailed a rickshaw, and returned to the family. They’ve moved to a much nicer house and even though there’s still a lot of commotion, they still made room for us physically and otherwise. And then gave us a very sweet send off. The flight back was grueling via London and New York – but 28 hours later Nicole, who house sat for us, was at the door to meet us. According to her, we arrived just in time and the weather is absolutely beautiful with all of the spring flowers and trees in bloom and the air crystal clear. Quite a change from the mist in Sikkim…and the pollution in Delhi.

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