Monthly Archives: February 2012

The growth of the wine business in India


On a very hot February morning, Todd and I headed north of town to join an ex-pat excursion to Grover Vineyard  , a winery trying to establish itself as one of the elite in India.  Grover started with a search for the climate that would yield the best grape production. The Kashmir region took first place, but given the extreme political unrest up north, the second choice region became the preferred area–Bangalore.

The 40 of us were greeted at the beginning of our tour with jasmine garlands. Very fragrant. Often these gardens are placed in women’s hair. The scent was overpowering for many in the heat and folks wrapped them on their arms or on purses to move them away from their faces. I thought it smelled heavenly.


The Grover vineyard only started tours three months ago, and after I realized that I really thought they did a great job. We started out in the fields where a man described the growing process. They have vines grown the Indian way and the European way. The European vines and climate reminded me very much of Napa.

Every step of the touring process emphasized that Grover was doing everything just like the French do. They have a French person in charge of the entire process, they import their barrels and grapes from France, and so on. As I teach in my policy classes, mimicry is the way a new company in a new place gains legitimacy. It is interesting how little I hear Napa folks comparing their production to France. It is almost in the U.S. like there is an explicit attempt not to try to compare to France in Napa but instead to establish the value of U.S. wine in its own right. I most remember comparisons in which the U.S. winemakers showed the medals that they won over french wins.


After touring the fields and the production facilities we were finally taken to the tasting room. Sitting down with some wine put a smile on our faces. We are pictured here with my new friend Priya. She lived in the States for 17 years (including Illinois and Boston) before deciding to move back to India with her family. I am learning a lot from her about the struggles and successes of returning back to India. For her kids, it is not returning, but moving to an entirely new place–not so easy, and especially not so easy to learn how to fit in to a very different schooling structure. Priya has kiddos the same age and gender as ours, so we are hoping to plan to get the families together soon.


Most of the wines were just okay, and some were actually quite awful. We sat with a fun group of Brits and one lady exclaimed after a red, “it smells like old leather shoes.” But thankfully our opinions changed after we had the last wine, La Reserve. A delicious blend of cab sav and syrah. So delicious that I bought a bottle to bring home to share with my monthly wine group.


After tasting perhaps too much wine, we had a lovely biryani lunch outside, with even more wine. Ducks floated about in the pond and monkeys climbed overhead!


Visiting a Jain temple


Todd and I explored a Jain Temple complex an hour north of Bangalore one morning. We headed to the area in search of a Hindu Temple that our friend Rahul had recommended to me. But instead, we found this mountain top cluster of buildings. The landscape North of town is very arid and rugged with large boulders. It was a very hot day and we saw lizards sunning themselves in the hot sun!




While Hinduism is the most prevalent religion in India, Buddhism and Jainism are also present (as well as Islam and Christianity too). But Buddhism and Jainism both seem to be more explicitly in contrast to Hinduism—which legitimizes stratification in Indian society by saying that castes/social classes have a religious basis and that the pathway to eternal life is through reincarnation which eventually leads you up the caste latter. In contrast, Buddhism and Jainism say that everyone has access to God and both highlight a religion based on peace and equity.

The Buddhist story in India is particularly interesting since Buddhists have mass conversions of the dalits, or the untouchables (lowest caste), since it is a faith that tells them that they are worthy people rather than at the lowest run of the social system. This association between Buddhism and dalits is so strong that I have heard people use the terms interchangeably. So, at work I heard a grad student say to her professor that she is wanting to support the Buddhists on campus, and especially since one committed suicide recently. But what she really meant was that she wanted to support the lowest caste/first generation graduate students who are struggling with fitting into the university system. But she was interchanging the word Buddhist and Dalit at will.

The connection between Buddhism and Dalits is so strong that it is unusual for people in India to be Buddhists who are not dalits, or at least it is viewed as surprising. Since my mother is Buddhist, this tension has been an issue for her. It is easier sometimes to hide the fact that she is Buddhist to some more devout Hindus.

But I digress. Jainism has over 4 million followers in India and around the world. It does not have the explicit tension that Buddhism does. The religion is most known for its strict rules about nonviolence. Jainism  is so peace oriented that it is even protective of insects—so much so that Jains not only are vegetarians but the also do not eat root vegetables since cutting the root kills part of the plant. Plus, it kills microgranisms and insects on the roots.

All of the buildings were under renovation, and some seemed to barely be held up by scaffolding, which made Todd nervous. But in true Indian fashion, the hospitality was incredible. The construction workers motioned for us to enter the temples despite their ongoing work and even opened closed parts of the temple and removed dropcloths so that we could see the artistry.


you have to take off your shoes in any temple in India. The beautiful inlaid marble in the one temple reminded me of the Taj Mahal.

This temple seemed to be one of the main ones in the complex. The center had a larger statue and then the outer rim of the temple was lined with 53 smaller statues that looked like this one below, right.  Best I can tell, they are saints. Jain does not have elaborate deities like Hinduism or the ominous calming presence of the Buddha. But lots and lots of this same image. Each statue was only slightly different, such as a different jewel for the third eye. The last few statues had a crown of cobras above the heads. The structure of the temple reminded me of stations of the cross in Catholicism, and the 53 statues seemed to be significant given that the construction worker pointed to the number and said, 53!    The little towers below signify the 53 saints, which are housed in the temple beneath of those towers/flags.

Many of the Jainism principles are similar to Quakerism, the faith that I follow. Jains believe that every living being has a soul and each soul is “is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas)” (says Wikipedia).  Because we all have the potential to be devine, every soul is sacred and thus the great focus on nonviolence.  Again, from Wikipedia,  When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attains divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss. The triple gems of Jainism (“Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct”) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver, or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated, and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts. The purpose of life is to undo the negative effects of karma through mental and physical purification. This process leads to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.”

I’m not sure of the significance of the hanging bell, but we saw one in most of the temples.


Jain monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing insects or other tiny beings. We did not see the two holy men sweeping that we encountered, but we weren’t really looking to see if they were, so maybe we just didn’t notice.  Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced (particularly through the guidance of Shrimad Rajchandra) by Jain tenets such as peaceful, protective living and honesty, and made them an integral part of his own philosophy.[41]

Headin’ to Sankey Tank


After the kids came home from school, we headed out on an outing. Todd had been home all day while I was out doing fieldwork and we needed to give him a taste of India! First stop–the Malleswaram shopping district. Recommended in my ex-pat guidebook, the shopping area had nice sidewalks and both permanent shops plus street vendors.


I found an Indian top for the equivalent of $4. Kaden and I used the camera as a mirror since we couldn’t see how we looked. Me-yes on the top for wandering about India. Kaden–no on the stripes.


Carson found a cricket bat.

Todd found ground coffee. Love this picture below. The kids are comparing who has the bigger “Litzinger chin dimple” while Todd buys some local Coorg coffee in the background.


Anyone know what this fruit is? I’m not sure.

Then we headed to Sankey Tank. It’s an awful name for one of the most beautiful place in Bangalore–a lovely body of water surrounded by a walking path. Like many parks, it is not open all the time and not even mid day. It is saved for the serious walks who arrive early in the morning and later in the evening. The rest of the day the park is closed–even on Saturdays! Thus our first attempts to visit were thwarted by the restricted hours. Today we brought the kids’ scooters and set off for a stroll.



On the way back, we stopped for McDonalds fries and nuggets and some Baskin and Robbins ice cream. Todd said he wanted peanut butter cup ice cream and I had to explain that peanut butter is a flavor that one only finds in the United States. It is a weird, acquired taste that most of the rest of the world thinks is quite gross! You can buy peanut butter here in ex-pat friendly stores, but you won’t find it in restaurants.

Addressing teacher shortages and curriculum quality through DVD-based instruction


On Monday I had a fascinating visiting with the non-profit project 1947  I found the organization through my friend Tay. I had no idea what I was going to learn and I ended up finding a kindred spirit in the funder, Naresh Bala. He started out in business and even had a start up in the Silicon Valley at one point. He developed a passion for increasing the value of life skills/soft skills in the India educational system. This initial passion has translated into a wealth of valuable projects.

I started my day by meeting the deputy director, Murali.  I picked him up at a local mall and we headed off to visit a local government school.  Government schools are the U.S. “public” school equivalent (and “public schools” in India are private schools!). This school was a “commission” school-funded by the city of Bangalore.  All of the children at this school were below the poverty line. It was secondary school, so grades 7, 8 and 9, 10 (there is no middle school) and as I mentioned in previous blogs, school in the state of Karnataka only goes to grade 10.

Project 1947 has developed an initiative seeking to address issues of poor curricula and teacher shortages in the government schools. Their strategy is to develop DVD based curricula that is highly integrated with state standards and exams. When I first heard of this strategy I admit I was extremely skeptical. Yet, as is the case with educational policy, HOW something is implemented matters much more than what it is. And these folks “get it.” The goals underlying the development of this strategy are actually the opposite of what I had thought. Naresh wanted to devise strategies that would encourage peer to peer learning, creative and cognitive thinking, a decentralization of authority from a teacher-centered classroom, and greater personalization of skills. To get a foothold in the door, he needed to market this program as improving results on the state exams. And it does that for sure, but his main goals are not exam prep but all these other soft skills emphases.

Naresh and Murali were inspired by Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences models. The goal of the content is to provide visual and kinesthetic learns a way to access the content as much as auditory learners. 99% of content delivery in secondary schools in India is through large lectures. These DVDs chosen over computer based formats since they would be easier to implement in poor schools. They provide a way to give quality content on subjects, especially in math and science that is the greatest area of teacher shortage.

The cheaper model involves showing the videos to the entire class on a TV.  The students are expected to sit together in groups while watching the video, and the video has built in times for the students to collaborate with one another to answer questions posed on the video. Students also must teach one another components of the lesson as a part of the video instruction. Teachers work through this curriculum and they have control over it, unlike Skype or something that is not flexible and able to be integrated into a teacher’s own repertoire.

In 20% of the schools, they have a more inventive approach. They have a separate classroom of portable DVD players–much cheaper than laptops. Students work in small groups on modules that are adaptable to the areas of the curriculum.


Each group can work on a different topic, or at a different level—remedial (red), extra practice (green), or basic content  (yellow) .The poster on the left below shows the three levels. The guidebook on the left shows exactly how the content aligns with the state exams, including sample questions from previous exams about that content.


With the portable DVD model, they hire a paraprofessional to run the technology. The paraprofessional does not have content knowledge and instead is trained mainly to operate the equipment. Students fill out query cards that are sent back to their teacher when they fail to solve an issue collaboratively in their peer groups. The teacher then addresses the issues in the group lecture.  The photo shows the query card area in the room.

This strategy therefore provides supports to schools with a shortage of teachers in specific subjects, but the equipment and the paraprofessionals make it difficult to spread to many more schools.

The DVD program is also connecting to a range of needs in the Indian schooling system. Sick children who cannot attend school for long periods of time, for example, are finding the DVDs a way to keep on track academically. Thus Naresh is networking with the hemophiliac society. He is also looking at the “deaf and dumb” population since the content is accessible to this population.

I had a chance to ask some questions to the children before I left.  I asked what they like best about the school. They replied their Maths teacher. I asked what they would change about their DVD program. They said that for some of the tougher units, they wanted a larger screen to see the information than just the small handheld players. An advantage of the handheld, though, is that the kids can take the player home with them to continue studying even if they have no DVD player or television.  Murali also showed me student-self assessments where they indicate their scores on a pre-assessment and how they will improve their learning (left photo below).


I also saw profiles of the most at-risk kids that included plans for improving achievement, which most often included a meeting with the parents to ensure agreement on schoolwork having a value  (right photo above). All the kids work before or after school, mainly as housecleaners, in garages, delivering newspapers and bills. As is the case in U.S. secondary schools, often poor kids are working so many hours that they have no time to study.

I also met with the headmaster and some teachers. I mainly talked with the English teacher since the headmaster did not speak English (an indication of his own education). I learned that the school is only at 80% occupancy. Much like in poor urban schools in the U.S., the entering class is twice the size of the graduating class. Plus in India, private schools are preferred even if the quality is no better. Families prefer private schools in part because of the “illusion of English” since the schools have English names, they expect the children will learn English better in these locales.  So government schools often have space. You can see in the photos below that the classes aren’t full.  Also note the gender segregation–boys on one side, girls on the other.

After our school visit, we took a long drive through traffic to the south of town to the Project 1947 office where I met Naresh. I could have talked to this man four hours. We share similar interests related to schooling, voice, the value of life skills/civic skills as a focus of the curriculum. We talked about the difficulties of funding ongoing reform work–issues of scale and measurement. They are planning on moving from 250 schools to over 500 schools next year but want to do so in a way that does not dilute the curriculum.

The scaling up issue incudes how to hire paraprofessionals and train them for so many new schools versus  with the TV based model in which the whole class watches a DVD as one, the teachers need to be rained to integrate and make the best use out of the content.  Measurement is yet another issue. The Dell Foundation is their biggest founder and they demand an eternal evaluation of the results. But how do you motivate secondary students to take an assessment that has no stakes for them, especially when they are already taking 4 sets of exams a year? The state exam measurements are also problematic because of the amount of cheating and corruption that occurs in government schools. The pass rate can fluctuate from 40% to 80% in a year based on the amount of copying, cheating and other forms of abuse that occur in exam administration.

I also learned of other Project 1947 initiatives, including the introduction of M.Psych students into high schools to teach life skills. An especial focus of the organization is trying to get more government school children into math and science. While we in the US think of India as very math and science focus, that is only the case for privileged students in the very best private schools. Hardly any government school children enter the sciences, and the rare ones that do will not go into math or science teacher training. Thus there is an extreme math and science teacher shortage in the schools/ although the government offers free education through engineering for very poor children, they will rarely choose sciences.

The story of two India’s 750,000 to 8,000 Less than 1% of government school children go on to get a degree in science.  Naresh divides the school children in government schools into three cat4egories: Less than 1% are scholars in the traditional sense. 20-25 % are literacy challenged–unable to read or write at a basic level. 75% are literate but struggling to pass and to ma the state board exams, called the SSLC (learning certificate). The word “diploma” is saved for advanced training.

And for most of the girls, they rarely get to move beyond the 10th grade. The parents fear for their safety living at home in small huts at an older age and they try to marry them off right after the 10th grade. Plus since the female parents must pay the costs/dowry they worry that an over educated daughter will be much more expensive to marry off since she will seek out a more highly educated spouse. The perception is that more education does not translate into greater opportunity but it does translate into a higher dowry.

Looking out the window


Some images that we passed as we headed into town on Saturday:

Scenes from our local village. This is one of my new fave photos. The water jugs in the back of the photo are carried often quite a distance for families to have safe drinking water.

     Nursing goats!!

In India, Saturday is a working day. Only one Saturday a month is a public holiday, and school children attend school for a shorter day on Saturdays. Here are two sets of school children that we saw getting out of school at lunchtime on Saturday. I love how the girls always wear braids.

We often pass these marriage halls on the way into town. Weddings are HUGE affairs in India. These are two entrances to big outdoor wedding pavilions. We recently learned that BOTH Pap Pap and Dada have a history of sneaking into wedding receptions.  It is an easier task in an Indian wedding because there is no set sequence of events. People eat and visit at their leisure and at some point the ceremony occurs off to one side, but it is not expected that the full set of guests will watch the ceremony itself.



These elephants are at the intersection of many roads in North Bangalore. On the right, kudos to SIL Janet who observed that the women who ride the motorcycles side-saddle always sit toward the left. All we can figure is that because people drive on the left, by sitting toward the left, they are always facing in the direction of the sidewalk to exit the vehicle.

The buses of Bangalore are a common form of transportation. These blue buses are the local, non air-conditioned buses. Red buses are air-conditioned and offer express service to various points in town. I learned recently that the buses are gender segregated–women sit in the front and men in the back. Doing so protects women from harrasment

 We have noticed many snakes at the base of trees in town–not a custom in Calcutta, so my dad doesn’t have an explanation for it. I asked my driver and he said they are related to Ganesh, the god of home and remover of obstacles. Ganesh had a divine serpent called Shesha that he often had around his neck. Wikipedia gives some other answers. One  is the focus of snakes in Hindu religion.”Snakes seeking shelter from the rains in houses and stables indicated the beginning of the monsoons and thus of the fertile season and fertility in general, hence they were worshipped mainly by women. Their habit to live under the earth related them to the underworld ancestors who were accordingly venerated in the form of snakes… Votive steles with snake images are often erected below trees because people believe that the dwellings of the snakes are situated underneath the roots. The Naga (skt. naga – snake) is usually not the snake in general but the cobra, raised to the rank of a divine being,” says Wikipedia. Snakes hold particular significance for infertile women. Wikipedia says that the stone image is immersed in a pond to be impregnated by the power of the snakes in teh pond and then the woman walks around the Ashavatta tree and puts the snake stone under the tree in hopes of conceiving a child.

I find this to be one of the funniest signs in Bangalore.


New neighbors downstairs–no where near the spectacle of the pooja this weekend, but a small ceremony must have occurred.

Nandi the bull, bats, and a Ganesh made out of butter


The first afternoon that Todd arrived, I took us on an adventure to visit Nandi the Bull–a famous Hindu temple south of the city.  The entrance to the temple had these bull horns. Todd got stuck behind a group of women; Carson found another route!


Nandi is a bull who is the source of transportation/mount for Shiva in Hindu Mythology. (Shiva is the destroyer God in the trinity of Hindu Gods). Often temples honoring Shiva will have Nandi present as well. But Nandi has his own temples as well like this one. Holy men in the temple offered red smudges and holy smoke. Kaden got a smudge without asking! I got some jasmine flowers after giving an offering on the plate.  Kaden was not happy with her holy smudge and rubbed it off as soon as we were out of site of the temple.  


Next to the Bull Temple was a beautiful park (Bugle Rock) with gardens, climbing rocks, and GIANT bats hanging in all of the trees! The park even had a high lookout for a closer look at these giant bats!!

   Poet statue

     All those black dots? Yep! Bats!!!


the best surprise was discovering a rock slide! From the lookout tower, we observed squealing kids and college students sliding down the rocks on smashed plastic bottles.


Carson insisted on joining in. Carson’s best ride of the day:   Kaden was  a bit more bashful but these two college kids offered to take her down with them. They were very sweet and she made it!

     Kaden did it!

After the park, we  visited a Ganesh temple on the same grounds that contained a Ganesh statue made out of Ghee–clarified butter. We couldn’t take photos inside, and especially because holy men were conducting a ceremony with lots of people present. The Ganesh didn’t look like it was made out of butter, primarily because it was covered in so many flower garlands that you coulodn’t see what was beneath. I couldn’t take photos inside the temple, but here is a website showing what the Ganesh looked like. Butter ganesh.

After our temple and park adventures, we met my parents for a buffet lunch at Mynt in the Taj West End. We had lovely outdoor seating by the garden.


Taj West End Lobby!

Todd is here!


Todd arrived early Saturday morning and the kids wouldn’t leave his side the entire day.


He brought some treats and gifts from home, including airheads candy, WWE posters, cards and gifts from Grandma and PapPap, applesauce and more!


On Monday Carson enjoyed showing Daddy around the school, including the art room


And Todd got to meet Carson’s favorite friend–Alex from France

Kaden was feeling a bit shy having Daddy around. She had more important business to take care of!

One of Todd’s craziest first experiences occurred at the gym back at our house. On Sunday, the neighbors were having a Pooja to celebrate their new house–a religious ceremony that is a house warming with lots of friends and family.  The front of the house was decorated with palm fronds. Shoes were left outside and a Hindu priest offered blessings inside.

Kaden’s new friends, Diya and Ecta (I had her name wrong in the previous post) were a part of the celebration for their new home along with their cousin (the girl on the far right) . At one point Kaden was outside playing with the girls and she dunked her hair into the swimming pool. The girls came running back to the house to see what level of “scolding” Kaden would receive for putting her head in the pool. When I said she wouldn’t get in trouble, the cousin said, “But Auntie! (that’s what you call grown-ups–Auntie or Uncle. It is very cute) But Auntie! My mother would kill me if I put my head in the water! Is she really not going to get a scolding at all?” The girls seemed very disappointed to miss out on viewing a good scolding!

But that wasn’t even the funniest part of the day. Todd and I wanted to work out at the gym, which is near the pool and lawn area. This Pooja included a lunch, which was set up much like the big feast that occurred in the community last week–poolside and with tables much like a wedding. The problem is that the gym is right near the festivities. Realize too that fitness/gyms are not popular concepts in India. So the vision of two Americans running on treadmills in the heat of mid day was just bizarre to this party of people. And there doesn’t seem to be a taboo for staring  in Indian culture. Five minutes into our run, Todd had six kids literally crowded around the treadmill, plus two adults watching at the door with folded arms gaping and another four people leaning their heads in through the window to get a better view of our spectacle.  Just as I had finally had enough and started shooing the kids out at least (how do you shoo out adults?) Mr. Yadov thankfully arrived blowing his whistle and telling everyone to leave the area. He then stationed as security guard at the door of the gym so that we would not be bothered and the kids would not injure themselves by being too curious about the treadmill.Welcome to India, Todd!

We waited for the party to clear before swimming in the pool, but some stragglers remained. Again, we were far more interesting than the end of the party. Again,  grown men and children especially gaped as we swam in the pool. Indians don’t do a lot of swimming, and women especially. To be appropriate in the pool, I was dressed much like the Hasidic Jews that we see at Great Wolf Lodge–I had on capri length work out pants and a baggy running shirt. Granted my shoulders were showing (on my!),  but I felt ridiculous at the amount of clothes that I was wearing.  It is hard to relax in the pool and enjoy your family when you have an audience. At one point Todd started laughing and honestly I don’t know which part was more ridiculous–my conservative garb, the rows of onlookers,  our attempts to act like everything was normal?