Monday, August 20, 2012


On Saturday I went with 4 of my colleagues (Sharon, Evelyn, Jill and Hannah) to Dharavi.  Dubbed the world's largest slum, Dharavi has the highest density of population.  The word slum refers to the fact that the people own their own property and businesses (which they have largely built themselves) but that the land is owned by the government.  Reality Tours, which does the walking tour, is a very sympathetic group and shows the dignity of the people who live there.  They use the money from the tours to run a community centre to educate the young people and to set up sports teams.

You are not allowed to take photos in Dharavi itself - it's not respectful - but we were able to take a couple from the railway bridge on the way into Dharavi from Mahim station.  

The first people to settle in Dharavi were pottery workers from Gujarat.  There is still a large pottery area in the slum.  Later they were joined by leather workers from Tamil Nadu.  Most of the million plus residents of Dharavi are second generation - their parents were the ones who moved there.  Rents here are very cheap, there is water and electricity, and transport is provided by the 2 mail railway lines on either side of the slum.  There is an extremely large recycling industry in the slum, especially in recycled plastic which is made into plastic pellets.

Dharavi is the setting of the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire.  Some of the children who act in the movie are real residents of Dharavi.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Indian People

Rachel took a series of photos on Independence Day of Indian people enjoying themselves and having a good time in the national park.

The Sanjay Gandhi National Park

August 15th is a public holiday in India, it's the day of Indian independence from Great Britain.  A group of us decided we'd spend the day at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park which is located in north Mumbai and is one of the few national parks in the world totally enclosed by a metropolis.  Inside the park there are forests, hills, valleys and lakes and there are caves full of carvings.

The Kanheri Caves area of the park date from the 1st century BC and have been chiseled out of the rock. The caves were used for study and meditation and some are carved with Buddhist sculptures.

Look carefully at the photo below and you will see the road - we hiked up from this road to the caves.  There were over 40 caves.  In the background you will also just see the buildings of the city of Mumbai.

Some of the caves were large and had obviously been used as places of worship.  In one cave there were stone pillars all along it, carved out of the rock.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turning a building into a school

Back in February when I visited the school this is what it looked like.  Some people thought I was made to move to a school that had not yet even been built, but I was convinced that the leadership team of the school had the right vision - I was onboard.

The photos above shows the first day in my new school.  Floors were still being laid, electric points were being put in, walls and pillars were being painted, furniture was starting to arrive.

The day before the first day of school - it's still a building.  We have got the partitions in place and we have got the displays up, but something is missing:  the students.  That evening, as one of the new teachers, I received this message from our Superintendent:
You will never have another “first day at ASB.” So, please take some time, as tomorrow progresses, to sit back for a few minutes every hour or so to just soak it in, capture the images and the feelings—the voices the faces the situations---and allow yourself to reflect. Many years from now, I want you to took back on tomorrow and remember it as the first day of a phenomenal year. I know I will.
What can I say. Chalk and cheese? Night and day? I am humbled and honoured to be here.

Now everything is in place and the students are here - and here is another message from Craig:
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity ... to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment ... would you capture it or just let it slip away ...
I captured it!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Parks in South Mumbai

I went into work on Sunday.  It was the day before school opened for new students and I wanted to put up displays in the iCommons areas.  Nancy, another new teacher, was also there in her learning pod and we decided it would be nice to go out afterwards.

We drove down to South Mumbai.  The first park we walked round was the Kamala Nehru park, which is located at the top of Mumbai's Malabar Hill.  It's named after the wife of India's first Prime Minister.  Nancy, Tim and I walked around the park.  It was a nice, open, green space and was surrounded by interesting buildings such as the Ambani building and something on the top of an apartment block that looked like a Greek temple.

We crossed the road and went to the Hanging Gardens, on the other side. These are terraced gardens providing a great view over the Arabian Sea, Chowpatty Beach and Marine Drive, which at night is called the Queen's Necklace as the lights resemble a string of pearls.

After this Nancy, Tim and myself went out for a meal at the Salt Water Cafe in Bandra.  It's possible to become a member of this cafe which give you points towards goodies and a 2 for 1 offer on drinks in the early evenings.  We joined.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Escobar on Lord Krishna's Birthday

We went to the Escobar for our first TGIF yesterday.  Dubbed as one of the "hippest" bars in Mumbai, it is claimed to have the longest bar in India and it's a regular hangout of the Bollywood crowd.  The bar doesn't open until 7.30 pm, but the school reserved it from 4pm for us, and we were treated to free drinks and food all evening.

After that I went out with Karen to watch the festivities for Lord Krishna's birthday.  We walked until we found an intersection with an unbroken pot suspended above it and hung around while several groups set up a human pyramid to try to smash it.  Eventually our patience was rewarded as we saw one group smash the pot and claim the prize.

I got a taxi back to Kohinoor.  This was a first for me because I don't know the way home yet and don't recognize landmarks.  However I was able to direct the taxi driver once he reached the LBS road, so I feel a little more confident now that I can actually get home after a night out!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Human Pyramids

Tomorrow is the Hindu festival of Krishna Janmashtami - Lord Krishna's birthday.  In Maharashtra, the state where Mumbai is, this is a huge celebration.  Here is a description taken from Wikipedia about this festival.  I'll be going along tomorrow to join in with the fun.

Janmaashtami, popularly known in Mumbai and Pune as Dahi Handi, is celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm. The handi is a clay pot filled with buttermilk that is positioned at a convenient height prior to the event. The topmost person on the human pyramid tries to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object. Mostly nariyal (coconut) is preferred being a sign of purity, truth etc. in Hinduism. When that happens the buttermilk is spilled over the entire group, symbolizing their achievement through unity. Handis are set up around the city, and groups of youngsters, called Govinda Pathaks, travel around in trucks trying to break as many handis as possible during the day.
Many such Govinda Pathaks compete with each other, especially for the handis that dole out hefty rewards. The event, in recent times, has gathered a political flavor, and it is common for political parties and rich community groups to offer prizes amounting to lakhs of rupees.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Opening Day Minus 4

Looking down to the bottom of the atrium as the last of the scaffolding
is taken down
What a lot has been accomplished in the past 3 days.  Today all the internal scaffolding was being removed and the last of the floors, the ground floor, was being laid.  We now have learning spaces being set up, electricity being put in, painting and cleaning being done.  Only a few days left until the opening.

The iCommons area on the 4th Floor
One of the learning spaces on the 3rd Floor

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pictures are hung

The carpenter came round today and started to hang the pictures.  Now the walls are painted and things are going up on them this apartment is feeling more and more like home.

Opening Day Minus 7

Just one week to go and we will have students walking through the front doors of the school.  It seems incredible to think of this as the building still doesn't seem finished, but every day more and more gets done.  Here are a few pictures showing what is is like with a week to go.  No doubt there will be a big contrast with these photos next week.

The scaffolding is gone from the outside, but parts of the inside still
look like this.  This is the Atrium, taken from the 3rd floor.

Furniture is starting to arrive and is being placed in the learning spaces.

Each floor has an iCommons area - with a techie in each.

My first tech meeting took place on these yellow and blue cushions.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Unpacking and getting settled

Our boxes have arrived and about 140 of them have been unpacked, though not much is in its "final" place yet.  I need to do a lot of organizing.  However I've been doing the nice things, choosing colours for the rooms, deciding where to put furniture, hang lamps and eventually put up our pictures.  Our bare apartment is being transformed into something that resembles a home!

Our dining room
Bedroom is looking good.

Rachel has set up her bedroom and here she is with new glasses!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Riding the public bus

Our welcome to ASB involved having a garland (mala) placed round our
necks and a tikka placed on our foreheads for good luck

Our Superintendent told us that we are the only foreigners in this neighbourhood and that's certainly true.  The only Westerners who we have seen here have been those in the ISB community.  As we walk down the street we are often stared at - not in a hostile way but in a curious one.

Today I was running a little late.  Outside my apartment block I saw a bus and someone running for it (so it seemed it was just about to set off).  I've never ridden a public bus here but I got on anyway.  The driver looked at me as if I was VERY foreign (alien, really) and pointed me down the bus where a conductor took my 5 rupee fair.  There wasn't a bus stop for where I wanted to get off, but the bus stopped for me anyway.

I went and had a pedicure today too.  As I was sitting down next to an Indian woman she asked me if I was staying at the Kohinoor hotel.  I told her I was living here now.  Again she was very surprised.

It won't be long though.  This area is going to totally change in the next 6 months or so now that the school has moved in here.  I'm excited that I'm right at the start of it, in the first wave of the change.  That I experience what it is like to live here as an alien being!


OK, the balconies are stuffed full of plants, now it's time for the walls.  Yesterday I asked if I could have my walls painted.  Yesterday evening a painter came round to ask me what colours I wanted.  Today 6 painters came around and painted almost the entire place.  Our lounge/dining room is green and red, my bedroom is blue and Rachel's is lilac and purple.  Yes, 3 rooms completely decorated in just one day.

Tomorrow the shipping arrives.  The place will soon feel like home.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


The apartment is still bare, but as of tomorrow our 4 balconies are going to be stuffed full with plants.  Rachel and I went to a nursery today and ordered more than 20 which are being delivered tomorrow.  Our pots will arrive in the shipment, hopefully on Saturday.  By next week the place should start to look and feel more like home.

A visit to an Akanksha Foundation school

One of the things I love about ASB is that there is a big committment to service education and yesterday a group of new teachers went to visit a school for slum children that is being run by the Akanksha Foundation. The school is doing good work - the students are delightful and very smart.  The teachers are very dedicated and it's great to think that ASB is getting us involved in such a life-changing project.