Chowmahalla Palace is the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty hat ruled Hyderabad since 1719.

Life, Death, and Haircuts in India

After household maintenance and meal preparation, what is there to do in Hyderabad, India?

It turns out there’s plenty to keep one happily busy.

Many go shopping. I’ve already written about shopping for a sari, but buying the gorgeous length of fabric I learn is just the first step. To complete the outfit, I will need a blouse and an underskirt.

Buying the underskirt is easy. Kareem the driver drops Sue and me off at the front of a busy shop. As I look around inside, there is a rainbow of colors tidily arrayed on floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall of the shop. I only see men behind the counter and one takes my sari material to quickly find me a match in color for a plain cotton underskirt with a drawstring waist.

Sari underskirt shop

The fabric store also sells thousands of sari underskirts in every shade and length imaginable.

The only issue is length—I find that all are too long for me. Finally, I choose the shortest length available (“It will shrink after washing, madam,” I’m assured) and am astonished it is only 270 rupees or just under $5.

The blouse is another story. We drop off the blouse fabric at a custom seamstress Sue uses. When you buy a sari the blouse fabric is typically at the end of the sari. The store cuts that end piece off for you to take to the seamstress for making the blouse, then hems all unfinished edges on the expanse of sari fabric.

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The hub cap sized platter of turmeric roots is used for both cooking and the daily "pills" Sue and Ram swallow for good health.

Cooking, Cleaning, and Driving in India

In the comfortable Hyderabad neighborhood of Banjara Hills, Muslims, Hindus, and Jains live side by side.

I know it is 5 a.m. when in the bedroom’s darkness I hear the loudspeakers come to life, blaring the first of the day’s five daily calls to prayer for devout Muslims.

By 6:30 I hear the soft “plop” of the day’s milk delivery at the front door, fresh milk packaged in soft plastic bags.

Going into the apartment’s “wet” kitchen, I open the back door leading to a small utility balcony that provides fresh air and the water spigot for the day’s buckets of cleaning water.

The neighbor downstairs refreshes the muggu or auspicious Hindi design hand drawn with ground rice powder.

The neighbor downstairs refreshes the muggu or auspicious Hindu design hand drawn with ground rice powder.

I spy the lady across the street refreshing the driveway entrance’s muggu, or auspicious design hand drawn using ground rice powder. The design is a Hindi practice for good luck, and is meant as a sign of welcome, for even the ants are welcome to eat away the design’s ground rice.

No one can leave the house until it is drawn.

Newly refreshed, the muggu design is complete and the residents can now safely leave the house.

Newly refreshed, the muggu design is complete and the residents can now safely leave the house.

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Basilica de Bom Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Goa.

Goa’s Churches, Rice Paddies, and Elephants

Ram was right. There are no elephant rides in Goa.

I get excited when I read in a brochure that we can visit a spice plantation offering elephant rides for visitors. As we arrange to book a tour for our group, we discover that the rules have changed.

Elephants no longer provide rides for tourists in Goa.

We continue with our plan for all three generations represented—the wise, the tired, and the energetic—to spend the day in a minivan making the hour-long drive to the spice plantation to explore, have lunch, and see the local Goan sights on the way.

Yesterday, we had split up. Grandparents Ram and Sue stayed at the resort with our two boys, who enjoyed the pool, rode on golf carts (called buggies by the locals), and explored the property.

Kay and I spent most of the day exploring downtown Goa. A former Portuguese colony, Goa has more churches than temples. We visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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After an Ayurvedic oil massage and steam session, one washes off the oil using a scrub made from besam, or chickpea flour.

Indian Beauty, Massages, and Saris

Indian women know how to take care of themselves. From eating and drinking mindfully for their health to detailed beauty care regimens, I realize I fall sadly short in maintaining the temple that is my earthly physical shell.

Every morning, Renuka prepares an extra turmeric “pill” for me to swallow with a full glass of water. The freshly rolled ball of turmeric powder and the five blanched almonds are for my physical and mental health.

Ranuka prepares turmeric pills and blanched almonds

Renuka prepares turmeric pills and blanched almonds every morning for Ram, Sue, and now, me.

“Five soaked almonds every day is good for your memory,” Kay’s mother Sujatha, or Sue tells me.

Kay has booked massages for us at the AddLife holistic treatment school for practitioners. I learn after the fact that I had experienced an Abhyanga herbal oil massage therapy.  Not a conventional Western style massage, it is meant to detox physical, mental, and emotional toxins built up from imbalances triggered from a hectic lifestyle.

I confess the overall experience was a bit…unsettling. I had not thought to ask questions about the type of treatment I’d receive, thinking I’d “wing it” and enjoy the experience as I figured it out.

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Muslims on motorbikes

Welcome to Hyderabad

We arrived in Telegana, India in the diminishing darkness of Sunday night, soon after the start of Eid al-Fitr.

As we made way from the airport a little after sunrise Monday morning, I watched men on motorbikes, driving, or crossing busy streets with bulky bags and packages.

A religious holiday for observant Muslims, Eid is the celebration of the end of Ramadan’s 40 days of fasting with celebratory family meals and time off from work.

So many mosques lining the main road into the city blared prayers and Eid messages for the faithful. The overlapping sounds from the endless loudspeakers broadcasting Urdu chanting, singing, and praying was the perfectly chaotic soundtrack to our introduction to India.

Welcome to Hyderabad.

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Riding an elephant in Jaipur, India

Elephants and Tasty Indian Food

A year ago I decided to travel to India with my friend Kay and our two middle school aged boys. In the past 12 months I’ve noticed how vacations in India are trending.

Perhaps India is always trending and I’m now only noticing. But I can count a handful of people I know who have gone since I’ve bought my tickets. There are two common themes to all the stories I’ve heard.

“The food is amazing,” one friend told me. “Every meal was so delicious and so different than what we normally eat.”

“We rode on elephants,” another one said. “They have pink tinged ears!”

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Photo credit Rishabh Varshney

Endless Entertainment from Email Doubles

What, you may ask, is an email double? It’s a person who shares your name and thus, an email address very close to yours.

It turns out that Iris Gonzalez is more common than you might imagine. There are over 300 Iris Gonzalez in the U.S. alone and hundreds more across Latin America.

As a beta tester for Gmail, I had no idea how lucky I was to score my email address using my name. What I didn’t know was that many other Iris Gonzalezs wanted it, too.

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Welcome

Why do I write?

I write because I can’t help myself.

The world is big and interesting and there are so many stories to tell. I’ve always been interested in the people around me.

It’s the why that is a powerful magnet for me.

My mother would tell me that was my favorite word when I first learned how to talk, and how I refused to give it up.

Why? Why? But why?

She grew tired of my questions and bought me an encyclopedia set instead.

As a journalist, the why drives my work. I listen and soon find myself thinking, “I need to write about this.”

There is more outside of my work that needs writing, too.

That is what drove me to create this website, to capture and share all the rest. I hope you’ll check in with me when you are curious and interested in finding out why.

Please join me.