The same but different.

Everybody needs a hug sometimes.

Everybody needs a hug sometimes.

Time is slipping away! It has already been two weeks since we landed in India. This blog entry has been rattling around in the back of my mind the entire time as I’ve tried to come up with some interesting way to say that things are “the same but different.” Generally speaking, this is how India always is, the same but different. Even while everything changes, nothing at all changes. (Like JP is famous for saying, “Whatever you think is true about India, is also untrue. And, whatever you think is definitely untrue about India, is also true.” This all being said with a lovely Indian accent and head shake.) So while I have been away from India for more than two years, much has genuinely changed. In a very obvious way, I watched the pictures of our old Osborne Road home as it was torn down and built into a new, magnificently large and functional structure. Upon arriving on the campus two weeks back, I have found it constantly swirling with motion and people and dust, screeching with saws, pounding with hammers, rattling my teeth with the drilling. All day, noise and activity, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning!

GateThere is never a dull moment, and yet this is what I always say about India. This is just a newer version of an old experience. And, I’m glad that most things feel and appear much the same. It makes for a smoother transition. The kids, despite falling sick with viral fever even while navigating the throes of jet lag, have made themselves at home here.  Reuben was just 1 when we left, but you’d never know it. Now, two years later he lives and dies by having to go everywhere with Daddy. He wants to be a part of all of the action. Leila, loves her quite moments with Judith, or sitting on the divan in Tata and Ava’s apartment. (Though she made herself quite at home shopping for trinkets on Commercial Street tonight!)

Getting Reuben to stop and take a nap can be a full time job- even when he's sick.

Getting Reuben to stop and take a nap can be a full time job- even when he’s sick.

So happy to be together again, Judith and Leila worked on the same paper together.

So happy to be together again, Judith and Leila worked on the same paper together.

We’re all being brave and adjusting to this wild ride of a new home in a familiar place.  We’re grateful for the memories within us that make this seem so natural, and we look forward to the memories that we’ll create on the new part of the journey.

Family of four goes to Commercial Street via auto-rickshaw.

Family of four goes to Commercial Street via auto-rickshaw.


The Un-Changing Idli

An article written for our church newsletter.

I can recall the exact texture and flavor of my mother-in-law’s perfectly made idlis*. Idlis are typically a breakfast food. Their ground rice and lentil batter is fermented and then steamed into a white, spongy, and puck-like morsel. We use idlis to sop up sambar*, a savory vegetable-lentil soup, and spicy coconut chutney. My mouth waters as I type, for I adore idlis. Despite some valiant efforts on my part, I have not come even close to mastering the art of idli-making in Holland, MI. My near constant craving goes unanswered.

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

I am rejoicing a little bit right now, however, because idlis my mother-in-law’s idlis are on the horizon.  We have purchased the tickets that will fly us back to India this June.  June 17 is the day.  Finally Leila and Reuben and Mommy will eat idlis in south India, and we will smile.  (Daddy does not actually care for idlis, silly guy, but he will eat them anyway because that is just what you do in India.  And, really, everything taste good with some coconut chutney.)

The latest look of the Ministry Center

The latest look of the Ministry Center

I am rejoicing. I am also wondering. Like the majority of you I have only seen pictures and heard stories about the new Ministry Center going up in India. I have been in awe of the process, the size, and certainly the possibilities that the new space offers. But the thing is, I remember enjoying my idlis around the ever-too-small table (for the number of people present) in the screened in porch area of JP’s previous family home, a familiar space now long gone. It may have been scrunched around that table, but it was always delicious. It always seemed breezy and idyllic. It was good to rub elbows and develop relationships there, at that table. I’m wondering what the new dining area will feel like, yes, but  just this morning I started to wonder if and where such a dining area exists in the new building.

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila-- seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila– seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Things are going to be different. I am pretty certain that the idlis will taste exactly the same even while many things will be radically different this time around. There will be adjustments to the new building. New staff members have some on board since I last visited WCOI. JP and I have a new nephew!  My own children have grown and changed very much since we last walked the landscape of our second home.

I trust that we are made for change, for growth and maturity, for new contexts, and new adventures.  I could not live this life otherwise.  And I trust that the idlis will taste the same and the dining room table will still fit enough people, making home timeless even in the midst of change.

Pronunciation Hints:

idli… id-lee

sambar… saam-bar

Sundararajan… soon-da-ra-ra-jin

A Changing Space


Bangalore, India… View from Osborne Road

The question that everyone has been asking for nearly two years finally has an answer. When people ask when our next trip to India is, I say June.


Just around the corner.

It might not feel that way to you- especially if it is still 5 degrees Fahrenheit out there like it was for us this morning- but I know that June is just around the corner. I’m aware of June’s proximity because suddenly, right under the surface, I am always thinking about India. Admittedly, with a husband who travels to India regularly, and work that focuses largely on India, and half of our extended family living in India, India is just about always on my mind.  However, I have suddenly begun to remember what it feels like to realistically think of myself in India, my children in India.  I was wondering the other day if Leila has any shorts or skirts that will still fit her in June.  This morning I told Reuben that he needs to do a better job of practicing on the potty because big boys that use the potty are more likely to get to rides on scooters and motorcycles in India– one of his greatest obsessions. I am making mental notes of recipes to bring along to India, and I decided I need to go file for an international driver’s license because I don’t want to sit around on my hands for another whole season in India. Yes, my brain has kicked into travel-prep gear, allowing the dreams of my heart these past two years to bubble up to the surface.

JP will have been to India FIVE times without us before we make our family trip this June. As JP visited India during these last two years, he witnessed wild growth spurts in the new Ministry Center that had been just the whisper of a dream in May 2012. Back then I witnessed only the antsy-ness, the practically palpable energy around the campus as the decision was made to keep the primely located property on Osborne Road, tear down the old homestead and build in its place a multi-storied building. This Ministry Center will soon house WCOI’s director (my father-in-law) and assistant director (my brother-in-law) and their families. Plus, it creates a parking area, apartments for hosting guests, and a beautiful worship space. Through pictures and stories relayed by our family, as well as the occasional live-in-person visit by JP, we have held our breath and rejoiced and worried and waited for the building to near its completion this Spring. Next Thursday JP will head to India for that 5th trip, embarking on our first- and perhaps only- “India Work Trip.”  Their plan includes a lot of carpentry and painting and general assistance in the finishing tasks that remain around the building.  It is a very, very exciting trip, and it moves our family trip all the more to the front of my mind.


How many of us have come down that slope to be welcomed and eat a delicious meal around the Sundararajan table-- right inside that remaining window?

How many of us have come down that slope to be welcomed and eat a delicious meal around the Sundararajan table– right inside that remaining window?


The space is made ready for building.

The space is made ready for building.





You'll notice that a building is also going up just next door.  This place will be so different when I return!

Notice that a building is going up just next door… This place will be so different when I return!

See them toss the bricks?

See them toss the bricks?

Major Progress.

Major Progress.

I know we’ve been quiet these last two years. Really, I’ve been quiet, as I’m the main blogger around here. Somehow the blog has become my “India Brain” space. I’ve always hoped and desired the blog to be valued and utilized in our whole life, but it obviously gets much more animated surrounding our Indian travels.  I’m not sure if I’ve had nothing to say, or if it was truly just a quiet time.  Life kept on moving,certainly, but I fell quiet. Perhaps I just needed a bit more spice.  😉  Whatever the case, my words are rising up again and I invite you, humbly and with a bit of self consciousness, to follow along, listen to our story, and participate in the color and spice.

Many thanks to my brother-in-law, James Sundararajan, who was on site to take all of these great photos!!

Our Languages

Train Station Signage

A Helpful Chart:

Number of Languages (not including dialects) Spoken in India: 1,652

National Language of India: Hindi

State Language of Karnataka (where Bangalore is): Kannada

Common Language of Bangalore:  English?

Language JP’s parents spoke to him at home: Tamil

Language JP spoke with brother, James:  English

Language JP’s parent’s spoke to each other: Telugu (a particular dialect)

Number of Languages JP learned in school: three

Number of Languages JP can communicate in today:  six

Indian Language we hope that our children will learn:  Tamil 

India speaks 1,652 languages. Nearly as long as I have known JP, I have heard this number rattled off in sermons, presentations, video clips, around dinner tables, in personal conversation, and I even remember being tested on it during one of my bridal shower games!  It is a big and rather overwhelming number.  Even Indians tend to be surprised when they learn there are so many languages spoken in their country.  I always giggle inwardly at their surprise.  Indians seem to overlook and disregard the constant shifting between languages that happens all throughout every single day.  I think I notice it because I am a foreigner, dabbling in a little bit of several languages, but never excelling in one.  Growing up in the midst of so many languages– learning three or four in school, using one language for home, and maybe another for work, and yet another with the auto driver, or the guy selling you a pair of shoes– languages just seem to flow naturally in, and around, and off the tongues of Indians.

Not "My Fruit Vendor," but a Fruit Vendor nonetheless

Example number one:

I have a favorite fruit vendor.  He roams up and down our street, pushing his cart during the afternoon and early evening hours.  He became my favorite fruit vendor when he once sold me 3 kilos (6.6 pounds!) of my favorite fruit, the red banana.  Every time I see him, he is always happy to offer his sweetest, ripest fruit to me with a flourish and an eager smile.

Most every evening, after the office closes, JP and I take Reuben out for a walk in the stroller to the end of the street and back.  Every day we pass “my fruit guy.”  On the days that we stop to buy fruit, I let JP do the talking because English does not seem to be this guy’s forte.  I should mention that many, many people in Bangalore do speak English.  Bangalore is a very cosmopolitan city, and rather than Hindi, English has become the common language among the myriad of Indian and other languages here.  Despite this, I am not bothered or irritated by the fact that the fruit man does not speak to me in my native tongue.  Instead, I have been quite interested in the conversations that take place between him and JP.  He does not usually speak to JP in Kannada, the local (state) language, which is what I would have expected.  Rather, he speaks to JP in Hindi, which is the national language of India, but is more commonly used as the common language in the northern parts of India.  Now, JP does speak Hindi, (and Kannada) but has said a number of times that they’d have a much easier transaction if they just spoke in Tamil, which would the first (heart) Indian language for both of them!!


Yes, it is interesting on a certain level that this guys speaks to JP in Hindi first, but this happens regularly, and has to do with the way he dresses and the very fair wife that often tags along with him.  What is definitely more interesting to me is that this humble fruit cart vendor, likely uneducated, or not very educated, is able to communicate in at least three languages.  This is so striking to me, coming from a country where even some of our most educated individuals do not speak more than one language, and might not even value speaking in more than a single language.  Here in India, it is very often the case that speaking more than one’s own heart language is both an every day fact of life, and a necessity.

The Sundararajan family can speak 9 different languages!

Example number two:

In January, we went to visit JP’s relatives, and had the chance to eat some of our very favorite Indian bread, called parottas.  Parottas are pretty much delicious when eaten plain, with chutney, or with a special gravy that I learned is called salna.  When it comes to learning a language, I seem to have the easiest time remembering words for food.  So, given my affection for parottas (and something yummy to dip them in) I had no trouble filing this new word, salna, into my brain.

Fast forward to sometime in the middle of March.  We’re sitting at the table eating lunch with JP’s parents and his grandfather, Tata.  Mom is serving Tata, and I keep hearing her say “Salna?”  Tata, seemingly engrossed in his food, replies, “Salma.”   This sort of exchange happens at almost every meal, and sometimes multiple times during the meal.  Ever since January, that little salna file card in my brain flutters a bit every time this conversation takes place.  However, on this day in March, the conversation did not compute.  We were not having gravy.  There was not any salna on the table.

Later, I asked JP about this and learned that Mom was actually asking, in another language, Sal na? (Is that enough?) and Tata was responding, Sal ma. (Enough, dear.)  Interestingly, no one else around the table had ever once thought about the similarity between word and phrases in the two languages– and they all speak these two languages!  This is what I mean when I say that people here in India are so surrounded by, and used to navigating between, multiple languages that they are

Example number three:

This past weekend, JP’s cousins’ family came to visit.  This meant that Leila got to meet and play with their little girl, Kaushika, for the first time. They put on a delightful cooking show for us after Sunday dinner.  I can’t help but put it with this post because I feel it illustrates to a certain extent 1) the multi-lingual world in which I spend my time… you’ll hear English, Tamil, and Telugu in the background, and 2) the beauty of learning to play together in this multi-lingual world.  This was not the first language that Leila has learned to play in, and I hope it won’t be the last!



Every time that I look at the pictures we took of these canopies at a beach-side, shack restaurant in Goa, I feel happy.

So Happy.

In mid-March, the four of us went on a 5-day vacation to Goa.  I felt like I was in a different country.  While Goa is definitely part of India– an overnight train ride for us, to be exact– there were a handful of things that made it feel like I had left the subcontinent, and entered a new reality.  (Certainly, the fact that everywhere we went we saw a bunch of white people driving around on scooters influenced my sense of place and reality!)  Goa is one of the more touristy, beachy, vacation spots of India.  I saw more flesh in Goa, during 5 days, than I have seen all put together in nine years of travels throughout the country!  I ate pizza in Goa, and it was good.  I played at the beach, wearing a bathing suit.  I swam in a beautiful pool at the the restort where we stayed, and it was cool and refreshing, and simply put: glorious.  All of these experiences made me feel like I was in a different country, but vacation, is what made it seem like a different reality.

train bound for Goa

Vacation has been a formative part of my reality.  Growing up, my family took a vacation each year.  We weren’t rich, so vacation meant “camping on a shoe string.”  However, despite the modest, leaky camper and tent accommodations, and the outdoor cooking, we adored our vacations.  I loved to wake up in my sleeping bag, and hear the sound of pine needles falling on the canvas roof of the tent.  I was mesmerized by the maze of those fallen needles. I could smell them, baking there in the sun, on their canvas skillet.  I loved to rise up and eat pancakes from the griddle.  I loved our long, lazy days at the beach, and the evenings spent peddling my bike round and round the pavement circle that housed the many campsites.  I loved the hamsteaks on the grill, complete with  buttered sweet potatoes.  I listened eagerly to the ghost stories my dad made up around the campfire.  And, I liked to sit as long as the grown ups allowed, around that fire, burning the tip of my “smoking stick” to ash.

Vacation.  I was free as a bird, brown as a berry, happy as a clam.

Doesn't a coconut tree just evoke a greater sense of vacation in you!?

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, maybe just a change of seasons in my life, but I nearly forgot about vacation.  I almost forgot about that free and happy self that bubbled up toward the surface of my life during vacation.  JP and I have not been good about taking proper vacations.  We find ourselves on the road, travelling, quite often– both in the US and in India.  Somehow, these travels tricked my brain into thinking it was vacation… but I don’t think my heart was ever fooled.  In Goa, my heart remembered the goodness of vacation.  It is another reality.  It is a place where tension rolls down off tense shoulders to a sandy floor, and stays there.  It is a space that opens up inside me, and feels like warm sun.  It is a taste of food, different food, rich and filling.  Vacation is a smile on my face, and a song in my heart.  

Reuben's first taste of Vacation

I want my husband and my children to know the goodness of vacation.  I once learned that Jewish mothers, at the end of the Sabbath, would place a candy on the tongues of their children so that they would remember the sweetness of the Sabbath.  I love that image.  I do believe that God blessed us with our vacation rest in Goa.  Even now, the sweetness of it lingers on my tongue, and the stress that rolled off my shoulders remains on that sandy beach. I am grateful for Goa, for the things that it reminded me of, and the things that it blessed me with, and for the things that it helped me hope for.

Yup. Happy.


A mouthful of a trip.

There is a day-trip that we often take guests on that we call the Belur Trip.  It is a three-stop journey, visiting the ancient soapstone carved temples at Belur and Halebidu, and the Jain temple and pilgrimage destination of Shravenabelagola.  So, you see, it would be a bit of a mouthful to call it anything other than the Belur Trip.  

I’ve been on this trip at least a complete handful of times, yet the picture-taking never gets old for me.  There are a myriad of details to get caught up in, especially at Belur and Halebidu.  Soapstone can be carved with such precision that a whole epic event can be captured in a mere corner of the temple.  It is nice to have JP as a tour guide because his brain is a vault for these minute sorts of details, and he finds immense pleasure in pointing out all the cool stuff that I have forgotten since my last visit.  He is a lovely guide, and I usually understand his accent better.

I'm always a sucker for an Elephant (or two)

I love this one because it shows some unfinished business on the part of the stone carvers.

Here, the god Shiva has triumphed over a demon that took the form of an elephant, and now he is dancing within the carcass. EPIC.

Shrevenabelagola is a steep hike up a mountainside.  At the top you can see both the sweeping coconut groves of the surrounding area, and the enormous idol of a Jain saint named Gomateshwara.  He is naked (as very ascetic Jains would not wear clothes because of their belief that the sky is their clothing) so, for the sake of your sensibilities, I won’t show a picture here.  I find this to be a very serene and pretty place to visit.

Attention to Detail on the pillar nearing the idol at Shrevenabelagola

Doorway in the temple wall.

My sister, Amy, and her husband, Kyle just spent two weeks with us at the end of February, and it was a delight to show them around some of our favorite haunts, including the Belur Trip.

good travel companions