This blog entry is long over-due.  Since Katy’s brilliant post mid-April, we have had our hands absolutely full with plans, contingency plans, disasters, near disasters, joy, sadness, culture-shock, jetlag, and everything else in between.   I’ll try to do a brief re-cap of what happened the night of April 16th (the day we were scheduled to leave India).

This week in mid-April was a long, tedious, frustrating, and unfortunate week.  We had begun to steel ourselves to say our painful goodbyes, get our laundry done, pack our suitcases, and clean our apartment.  We did a fairly decent job of getting it all done in good time.  The drama happened after we got to the airport.   Later I remarked to Katy that had all the drama involved just me or even us (Katy and me), we could have handled it. The fact that Leila and Reuben were involved got more tiring and felt more personal.

We spent the day knee deep in suitcases and packing.   The kids didn’t really want to nap because they were excited too.   We shrugged and said, “Oh well, we can sleep on the plane.  They might as well stay awake now!”   Our cars were packed, and we were soon off to the airport.   After taking almost an hour (near midnight) to check in all 10 suitcases, get boarding passes ready, and steadying ourself with the hope that we can soon sleep once we buckle in…at the very last gate for immigration, the normally routine process went really bad.

The problem was that we came to India on a 5 month trip, so we applied for the normal 6 month visa. We applied a month before we left, which seemed like the “savvy-traveler” move to make.  However, the geniuses at the Indian consulate in Chicago stamped the visa that was effective from when they actually received our application, not for when we would actually land!   So the visas for Leila, Reuben, and Katy would expire on April 10… not april 17 when we hoped to leave India.

Note:  I must be clear here.   As soon as we saw the visa in our passports, I called the consulate and talked to them about my concern.   The official on the line assured me that it was ok. He explained to me in clear terms that the visa would not be effective till we actually land in India, which made perfect sense to me. So I was happy, I didn’t need to check again because this was the Indian embassy that assured me of this. This, my friends, was a BIG MISTAKE as we would discover the night of the 16th!  🙂

The immigration officer at the gate looked at us and said in a monotone, “Sir, your visas are expired.”   Confidently I replied, “Yes, I know.  We were assured that it would be ok by the Indian embassy.”   I even showed him our date of entry that was stamped on the passorts.   He kept saying, “But your visas are expired.”   I was puzzled and asked him in exasperation, “So now what? Is there a fine?”  He said, “Um, you will not be able to fly tonight Sir!”   I was holding myself together admirably up until that point but then I lost it.  I let them face the full fury of words that I had bottled up all night.  Deep down though, in all fairness, even then I knew that they were doing their job and it was ultimately our own oversight (even if we were misled by the immigration authorities).

Our flight was stopped and our luggage unloaded.  We trudged slowly downstairs to the Air France desk where two valets eventually showed up with trolleys loaded with our checked bags.   We had them usher us to cabs from where we made the slowest and longest trip back to our home in Bangalore.   We crawled into our beds and went to sleep restlessly, disappointment writ large on our faces.   Our tired bodies couldn’t rest with our minds racing relentlessly.

Early the next morning, after we narrated our stories to our families, we hunkered down to re-book tickets (earliest available ones were for the 29th, two weeks away), go to the Foreigners Registration Office (the less said about this place the better), get visas regularized and exit permits issued. It was a 5 hour ordeal to get Leila’s and Reuben’s stuff taken care of but for Katy, we needed to get a police report.  This was a wonderful demonstration of incompetency on the part of the police department. They even had to send an officer to our home to verify things and interview me for an hour. Anyway… after spending even more time at the FRO next day (no joke.. close to 8 hours), we got our stuff taken care of.

We celebrated by hitting McDonalds with Leila and having delicious gelato afterwards! 🙂 I am sparing you all the other details of this ordeal because it was pretty ridiculous. Through it all though, Leila and Reuben have been wonderful reminders of good things in this world. There were no temper tantrums or behavior issues that we had to be saddled with in this. While I have always been proud of my kids, I think the pride was kicked up a couple of notches to see how easily they rolled with the changes.  Katy’s previous blog post was only reinforced through all this.

We are finally all back in the US as I type this.  Hard to believe that it has been almost a week since we have been home.   Our memories of India are now infused with sounds of laundry, the aromas of Katy’s cooking, the briskness of the Michigan air, and the comfort of our own home.

We are happy to be back.

Reuben gave us another reason to celebrate, watch and enjoy!




The techi-ness goes way back!

Yes, finally, JP gets to take over for a bit from his beautifully eloquent wife and share a small thought that has continued to amaze me. Anybody who knows me, knows the techie-side to me. I have always been very fond of taking things apart and finding ways to incorporate technology into my life, even if it is absolutely unnecessary. When I was about 9, my dad got me an electronics kit with instructions on how to wire it to do crazy things. As a result, I found a way to make it an FM transmitter, I learned how to make “disco lights,” and I even once learned how to bug a room. (This last experiment was a life-lesson to me. One evening, one of my teachers came home to chat with my parents about me. I thought it would be swell to be in the other room and eavesdrop. Unfortunately, my 9 year old fingers wired things a little backwards, so instead of us hearing them… yep… they heard us!). My electronic kit was my favorite toy. It unfortunately met its untimely demise when I wired up an annoying siren and put it under my brother’s pillow when he was sleeping. Needless to say, after James was done, my experiments with that unit were done also. In hindsight though, who knew that this seed that was sown in my heart would blossom into a fascination with machines and finding ways to humanize them in our lives to this day?

JP and his "Electronics Kit"

I had to put my reliance on technology on hold till I went to the US for my studies. My parents and I tried to write letters but when you wait for a month to receive anything, it can get a bit tedious. Fortunately, email was slowly beginning to take root in India by this stage. My parents only had a dial up connection but that was all it took. All of a sudden, what used to take us weeks, and sometimes, months became a daily affair. I knew what my mom made for breakfast, what the dog was upto that day, what the weather was like (not necesarily fun to listen to when we were in the throes of an Iowan winter), and so many more sundry details about daily life in India. It brought my worlds closer.

Katy and I dated long distance for almost a year and a half before we were married. I taught Katy how to set up MSN messenger on her computer, bought her an USB webcam, and almost every morning, I would wake up and chat with her. I thought it was pretty amazing. For work purposes, I even bid on a “memory bar” (think thumb-drive) on ebay. I thought 256 MB was a TON of space. (Bye bye floppy drives…GASP!) I even wore that around my neck like it was a gold necklace. This was only 8 years ago! Pardon my use of a cliche, but how quickly technology changes.

Oreo wants the famous "memory bar"

Today, I skype regularly with friends, churches, and groups back in the US. I am able to shoot and edit photos and videos on my phone that I can then upload to facebook or email to our parents. I regularly text friends worldwide. I can play the popular game “Words with Friends” with dear friends and families in the US while I wait at long traffic lights. Leila is able to color pictures on her little ipod and email her grandparents. Just this week, Amy, Katy’s sister and Katy had a video conversation on my phone over breakfast. She was baking cookies (at 7:30 pm Monday) and needed a recipe… Katy was eating breakfast with the family (at 9:00am Tuesday in Bangalore). Somehow Seattle and Bangalore seemed to fit together around that table.

I love technology. People have always told me how holding a kindle or an ipad can not feel as organic as holding an actual book. I get that. I also get how a face to face conversation will beat facetime/skype hands down every time. I know that power outages, spotty internet, travels, etc. can wreck havoc on communication if you depend on technology too much. But, in spite of all that, we (the Sundararajans) live in multiple worlds. We have people we love and care about. We would love to share coffee for hours on end and chat about our lives. Since we cannot realistically do that as often as we’d like, using technology to invite people to walk with us into the sundry details of our daily lives makes sense.

So, obviously, it goes without saying how grateful we are that we have a blog to journal parts of life with you. Another neat way in which our worlds collide.

(And just for fun, I am going to publish this post from the WordPress app on my phone… why not?!)

“TWBAGB” (And just like that… we’re back)

Sometimes it is nice to walk away for a bit and live life.   Katy and I honestly felt that our season of writing blogs was behind us.  We loved sharing our life in small web-snippets when we got the chance, but we soon realized that with the hectic pace that we live our lives, that writing a new blog post was slowly sliding down our list of priorities.   While I would be lying if I said that we missed our blog I will admit, on occasion, we would have those… “this would be a great blogpost (twbagb)” moment but they were fleeting and replaced with another “twbagb” moment.

So why now?  Good question.   I think a part of me has always believed that regardless of how fast life goes, unless you slow down and take note, moments in life remain un-savored.  So we begin again.   We will try to be faithful in our recording of life’s lessons.  We will try and process our seasons of life on here with you.   Will we be regular?  Probably not, but we will try to get here whenever we have a great “twbagb” moment!  I hope you enjoy walking this road again with us.

Here is a photo slideshow encapsulation some of our life since our last entry…:)

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And then…

There were four!  😉  Katy and I have known for a while but have now decided that you get to be in on the secret.   In a highly anticipated and yet hardly surprising move, we are proud to announce that there will be another little Sundararajan joining our ranks!   We are very excited about this news.  Please pray for continued good health for Katy and the baby.   We are hoping for an on time May 4 delivery.  Till then, we will keep you updated on the progress here.

Sorry for the delay in updating our blog but I wanted to make sure the update was a good one!  Love you all!

Skin deep

While eating breakfast a couple of days ago, Katy and I had an interesting discussion.  We wondered if Leila would be considered a minority here in the U.S.   Would she even be considered a person of color?  We both could see how a plausible case could be made from both sides of the fence.   I LOVE that we don’t really have an answer for it.

Lately, another observation we have made is that when we read books to Leila, she has begun to identify characters in her book with people she knows.  She always has to find “mama,” “dada,” or “eeila.”  This inevitably leads to some hilarious moments at our home.  Katy is often times shocked at what Leila points at.   And more often than not, I am picked as the one white guy in the book.   She sometimes will also find her uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends in these books too.   The very curious aspect of this game is that when it comes to identifying herself in her books, Leila almost always picks a character who is dark-skinned.  I find this absolutely fascinating.   Most people, when they see Leila, do not immediately think of her as dark-skinned.  She is often referred to as tan or olive complexioned.

In both cultures that make up Leila, being fair-skinned has its own advantages.  There is often an under-lying assumption made that beauty lies in lighter skin tones.   Lighter skin often also means an altered status in society, and being a part of the group with better options in life.   This is where I find Leila’s self-identification fascinating.   She identifies herself as a person of color!  Not that she has any societal pressures to conform to anything at this point.  🙂  I still  think it is amazing that she lives in a pre-dominantly Caucasian town, and yet, seems to think she looks different.   I wonder if this is something that we will find to always be the case, or if at some point, she’ll want to blend in.   It makes for a curious and fascinating case-study!  (At least for me!).

This picture was taken last week…


It is customary in parts of India to celebrate little girls.   Usually before they turn one, there is a ceremony that is performed and her ears are pierced.    It marks a significant step in the transition from the baby to a little girl.   Katy and I have always wanted to incorporate as many Indian customs as we can into Leila’s life, so she grows up understanding and respecting the two cultures that make up who she is.

Katy and I, however, went back and forth on when exactly we wanted to get this done.  Part of our hesitancy stemmed from the fact that Leila was/is quite reticent with new people.   She has always been uncomfortable with strangers and needs time to warm up to them.   We weren’t sure how she would do with two new people wanting to pierce a hole in her ear!  Fortunately for us, her little cousin Judith just got her ears pierced.  After a conversation with my brother James, I was reassured that this will go just fine.

And so, last Friday with trepidation and great excitement, Katy and I took Leila to the mall.   We scouted out potential “reward” zones for Leila if the piercing did not go as planned.   There were merry-go-rounds, ice-cream stalls, etc., that I had every good intention of going to right after the piercing.   We soon found Claire’s on the upper level of Rivertown Crossings Mall.

Leila surprised us all with her attitude.  For one, we think her stranger anxiety is not what it used to be even a couple of weeks ago.  She has definitely gotten more comfortable with people.   This was not something you could necessarily count or plan on, but still, we weren’t complaining!  A friendly associate at Claire’s talked us through the process.

Leila listened carefully, and even let the girl apply antiseptic on her ear.  These were very good signs, but I was afraid of how it would go in a few minutes.   Soon another girl joined the group, and I was given the job of distracting Leila.   That was an easy task because Claire’s is chockfull of stuff for little girls like Leila.   Before Leila knew what happened, she had a brand new set of earrings lodged in her ear lobes.   Now, Leila did let loose the sirens and waterworks, but within a minute (no exaggeration here), the cries and tears stopped, and Leila was off to examine some purses that escaped her attention when she first walked in!

That evening, there were no merry-go-rounds, no ice-cream, just dinner out at Taco Bell!  Leila looks beautiful with her earrings.  I think you will agree…:)