The Children’s Smiles of Karauli… India Part 2



Musician in the streets of Jaipur

Struggling with feelings of doubt or low self-esteem?

I have just the place for you. 

After settling into a picturesque, bougainvillea-festooned Maharaja’s estate in this small town of Karauli, not far from Agra, India, our group of 10… Brits, Americans, Aussies and we Canucks… wandered out the front gates of the palace, clambered aboard flatbed carts attached by long wooden poles to large camel-toned… you guessed it… camels. 

Two carts, two camels, 5 pale-white tourists per flatbed and we were off. 

The mid-afternoon sun settled over us warmly as the camels began slowly trodding forward into the narrow streets of the town. 

Sitting immediately behind the behind of the camel, its rump muscles shifting smoothly up and down like pistons, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t a stronger animal scent to this 7 foot tall creature. The stinky part must be in the spit! 

The beasts of burden ambled forwards, regal with their red-flower adorned noses held high as if they were kings of a civilization. 

Like all the Indian towns and cities we’ve seen so far, the sides of the rugged roads are heavily jammed with small shops and stalls, groups of people gathered, children running and playing, dark-skinned, wrinkled elderly adults crouched on haunches in small circles beside stalls piled high with long carrots, red onions, fresh turmeric and cabbage, apples, bananas, oranges and limes, household items like light bulbs and metal bowls and PVC pipes. 

And cows. Sacred cows. Always cows. 


Motorcycle or Massage Tool?

Young men on Honda Hero or Mahindra motorcycles or bicycles with one, two, three, maybe 4 passengers, roar up the one-lane wide streets. As always, the activity and sound is overwhelming to our ‘western’ eyes and ears but the real distraction amid this maelstrom quickly becomes… us. 

Our camel-cart parade route is lined on both sides, plus front and rear with intrigued and smiling admirers. 

Excited kids beam smiles our way and call out “hello”, “hi”, “namaste“…  

Young mothers clad in bright red, orange, and green saris holding babies close to their faces smile shyly…. adult men grin and wave in an almost embarrassed way, but can’t hold back their friendliness at these white-skinned wonders passing through their streets, through the tight corners and dusty lane ways leading up the hillside to the massive castle above their village. 

Along the route, fence tops and roofs are lined with drying cow patties, pancake circles of cow dung that, once dry are used as fuel for cooking. Some patties are layered up in artistic cylindrical piles, almost resembling braids. 

Vegetable sellers look up from their rusty weigh scales and smile as they carry out their business. Throngs of children chase behind our rustic carts as we feel each bump of the road on our tender backsides. The camel-tenders occasionally hop down from their perch and run to the front of their animals, carefully guiding them around extra tight corners or narrow stretches of laneway. 

At the finish of our enthusiastic 15-minute trek through the town we arrive at the substantial wooden castle gate. Sliding our bumped-up asses off the carts, we’re surrounded more so by eager, excited kids, jumping up and down, calling to us, shaking our hands. 

Yes, if you’re feeling down or unloved, Karauli is the one stop refresher for your blues. 


Our journeys this week have carried us from Delhi to Agra and the Taj Mahal, then onwards to Karauli, then Jaipur, and now Bijaipur.  

It’s culture shock of a huge magnitude with the unending crowds of people, the traffic noise, the combination of Hindu religion and Muslim and Christian…. the overwhelming mass belief in the religious and nationalist traditions that govern every moment of every day of the residents. 

One of the most difficult things -for me- in visiting a country such as India is to shed the judgmental gene that constantly wants me to wonder why… how… people can live so poorly and yet believe so strongly in the bountiful grace of their Gods. 

To see countless towns and cities where groups of young men and old, sit squatting in circles, badly underutilized to my eyes, passing time. Agricultural methods seem rigidly tied to practices of 50 or 100 years ago so that more men, more women, can remain employed. 

To see a world where women are mostly relegated to subservience to their fathers and husbands. 

The western glasses I look through make me shake my head in amazement. I try to remain open-minded but it feels a strain. 


Movie theatre in Jaipur


To attend a Bollywood movie in Jaipur, a city of about 6 million souls, our group, divided into men and women, entered the theatre through separate doorways, then immediately re-congregated on the inside. 

We slid into comfortable seats of the modern, gargantuan theatre complex, and munched popcorn through the 3 hour drama of the movie, DANGAL, a true story about a young woman’s quest to become an Olympic wrestler, told only in Hindi language but easily understood by non-speakers. 

When the young heroine of the flick wins a Commonwealth Games’ medal and the Indian national anthem plays, the entire theatre crowd of 600 or 700 stands for its playing in the middle of the movie. National pride. 


Stopping in a central city Hindu temple at prayer time in the early evening was both mesmerizing and almost frightening to the uninitiated. 

A mass of children and adult men and women stood on concrete floors, facing the altar in front, then raised their arms overhead and pushed to the front of the temple. Loud bells swung in the arms of priests, clanging at almost ear-shattering volume, over and over, then doors on the raised dais were flung open to expose religious icons and artifacts. An audible ‘oooooohhhh’ arose in the crowd. 

The congregation of souls began flowing into underground tunnels that circled behind and under the altar where magnetic forces are told to originate and emanate to energize their lives. The crowds circled under, around and back to the front of the altar where the bells still loudly clanged. 

Soon, priests begin dipping their hands into holy water and spraying it into the crowd where it is caught and rubbed over the worshipper’s head. 

The bells suddenly go silent and the people quietly leave the temple. 

Tomorrow, they will return both in the morning and the evening to re-enact this same religious ceremony. 


Finally today, Food. 

Indian spices. Indian curries. A Wonder of the World. 

A portion of this journey is dedicated to learning a bit about the cooking of various regions of central and southern India. 

A tidbit… 

In Jaipur we spent an evening in the middle-class home of a lovely young Indian woman Pooja, along with her gracious husband and son. Pooja is a petite woman in a sweater and jeans, red lipstick highlighting her pretty face. The interior of the house was clean and modern looking, not unlike a typical small western home. 

Welcomed into the front room, we were served small samples of potato (aloo) pakora and chai as Pooja explained to us about her knowledge of Indian cooking and the business of cooking for large Indian weddings. 

Next followed a short tour of her modest upstair’s kitchen, and then we were guided to the basement where a large cooking demonstration area sat. 


Pooja spins her cooking magic…

Pooja took us through her spice collection contained in a circular plastic container… 6 or 7 spices, coriander, chili, salt, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon. Other spices such as fenugreek and cilantro and mango powder were nearby for more occasional use. 

This evening’s demo would include 4 dishes: Dal Pachrangi – lentil and ginger/garlic dal, Gatta Curry – boiled chickpea dough in a spicy yogurt-based sauce, Rice Pullow – basmati rice with cinnamon, cloves, and onion, and finally Zeera Aloo – cumin potatoes… all would be vegetarian. 

Almost like in a TV cooking show, Pooja showed us her methods of preparation. While gently stirring garlic-ginger paste into hot oil, lofting warm scent into the air, she threw in little tips for substitutions, and had us assisting in stirring sauces and rolling out chappattis to accompany the meal. 

Finally, all the dishes were hot, fragrant, and ready for us to sit and enjoy. 
After sampling each of the dishes, our lips stinging lightly from the heat of the foods, Pooja’s gentle husband served us each a small bowl of sweet semolina pudding, the perfect finish to an evening Indian meal. 

Interestingly, as the days of our Indian excursion add up… as much as I enjoy Indian cuisine… I find myself reminded that too much of ANY good thing grows tiresome. 

After 9 days of complex spiced curries and dals and aloos, I find myself dreaming of a respite of salad, or pasta, or plain meat and potatoes. Do I sound like a stereotypical North American tourist, or what? 

Next stops… Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa where we expect the heat in the air will begin to resemble the heat in the foods.


Delhi Belly? Not Yet! Early first days in India…


The ants pour out of their nests in brown droves and by 9 am, the smoke-hazed streets of Delhi are buzzing.

Narrow, busted pavement roads, streets of sand, dust, broken concrete, and dog shit mingle with thin, brown bodies- mostly men – rushing in every direction, some to the huge metro station at the end of the long street, others to set up street stalls selling fruit, vegetables, belts and sunglasses, plastic neon doodads, wrinkled winter jackets in big heaps on carts, and syrupy-sweet gulab jamun. 

Like most poor neighbourhoods in most poorer countries, the sounds and smells of this borough called Karol Bagh within Delhi are an assault, an assault of stimulation where small cars and rusted bicycle carts and dogs and throngs of pedestrians all compete to survive.

The fractious chaos to our western eyes is hard to imagine, but to Pappu the tuk-tuk owner/driver, it’s everyday life. 

Pappu and his tuk-tuk, a small 3-wheeled motorcycle cart that closely resembles the Coco cabs of Cuba, wait outside boutique hotels anticipating any exit by a white-skinned tourist or business person.

Pappu smiles a big, white-toothed smile and chats us up, skilfully applying his salesman skills, all honed and polished towards an end result…”always be closing” in sales parlance.

Pappu draws a promise from us – after 5 minutes of friendly but dogged pursuit – of a tuk-tuk trip to the Lotus Temple. 


Bahai faith’s Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple turns out to be- easily- an hour’s return trip through Delhi traffic. The air temperature is cool and invigorating- perhaps 17 or 18C. 

It dawns on me that perhaps the bright mustard yellow top and green grass-coloured bottom and sides of the tuk-tuk are intended to represent a typical stop light missing the red stop portion because traffic here never truly stops but is in constant movement even when there appears to be no possible way to progress forwards in the jam of traffic.

The cost of the journey to us? 50 rupees… less than 1 dollar including sightseeing points along the route (and an unsolicited stop at his cousin’s carpet store for a 20 minute sales pitch of lovely Indian carpets served with green tea!!)… 

At the end of the fun, air-through-our-hair experience, I hand him a bonus 50 rupees with thanks and a smile. He’ll return to his station by the hotel waiting for his next “fare” with his smile and sales pitch prepared.

Tuk-tuks abound in the thousands in Delhi, for the movement of tourists and many of the 22.5 million residents. The roads of Delhi are jammed in the daytime with cars, trucks, horse and brahma drawn wagons, bicycles, motorcycles and, tuk-tuks… a maelstrom of loud horn-heavy movement where lane lines and sidewalks are generally ignored and vehicles routinely wander within anxious millimetres of each other and the walking masses.

It’s a voluminous sea of humanity beyond what we’ve experienced in other populous countries like China or Morocco, good-natured but cacaphonous. It’s a sensory overload, over-stimulating and exciting, occasionally a bit frightening in the crowded metro stations and marketplaces.

Today, a visit to a Sikh temple where each day, 25,000 people are fed free vegetarian meals prepared in huge kitchens in monster cauldrons. We sit barefoot, cross-legged on long rough carpets laid out in straight lines. Across the dimly lit hall, male volunteers carrying metal pots ladle dal and green pea soup onto our metal dishes, another volunteer follows dropping 2 warm chappatis on each plate. Quietly, hundreds of us, torn bits of chappatis in grasp, scoop the food with the right hand, the right hand only, into our mouths.

These are all early observations formed in the dawn of our visit to this historic land. The scents, the flavours, the sounds, will float us along a sensory river as we carry on, first to Agra and the Taj Mahal tomorrow, then further to Udaipur and Jaipur and Mumbai and Goa. 

Each day will send stories, new visions and impressions of the people and the wonders of its food and architecture, its art and history. 

In the days to come, there will be stories of India and perhaps, stories of the BritAusAmerican folks that journeyed here to accompany us on the road to this Best Exotic Marigold destination. 

Tuk-tuk cab on Delhi street

What is Your Dream Job?



Show up. 

Dive in. 


Sometimes you’ll win.  Sometimes you’ll lose. 

Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. 

But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire.

Barack Obama’s Farewell Speech January 10, 2017.


To write a speech is to love words.

I hear words. I see words. I love words. Sometimes even swear words.

Laid back, eyes lightly closed, I inhale the seductive, burning orange warmth of the sun passing through the silky curtains that are my eyelids, highlighting the tiny capillaries that snake hither and thither, tracing paths and journeys both backwards and forwards.

Opening my eyes, I absorb the blue bowl of the sky curving over, a wide open ocean that flows tones and scents and beckons me to choose a direction, any direction … life is improvisation.

Life is an artistic improvisation. Why can’t our jobs, our vocations, be a part of that art?

We day dream, we night dream. We envision ourselves as Walter Mitty, taking on bold adventures that stir our blood.

We plan and map a direction, but when a shifting tide sends a new purpose or invigorating question to be answered, why wouldn’t we choose the flexible path?

The Yellow Brick Road sends forks our way constantly when we keep our YES open. New directions and exciting visions appear over the horizon regularly like the perennially dawning day.

I grew up with career dreams, some that became satisfying reality, some that lingered and then… evaporated away like whistling steam rising from a kettle.



I once dreamed of becoming a speechwriter.


Words can elevate to music. A turn of phrase… a pause… served with a side dish of smile.

Words spoken by Barack Obama, or Winston Churchill, or Meryl Streep or Martin Luther King Jr. have a rhythm and a harmony that seeps inside us, leaving a lingering indentation in our soulful minds of beauty and strength and inspiration. There’s a hit parade of those speechifying moments that play inside our heads….

I have a dream…”

“… ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. “

“…if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”


Symphonies of spoken words.

Donald Trump, despite being wonderful and fabulous and terrific, will never be a music man, a crafter of words that encourage and elevate… only humiliate. More weeds than flowers.

He’ll never give an individual other than himself a wondrous sense of personal hope or pride. Trump vomits children’s fairy tales and tart bubblegum phrases, filling the air with smoggy disharmonic tones.

OK. Enough of the Donald.

Listening to the moving oration of Barack Obama the other night simultaneously resurrected and then laid to rest a childlike dream in my head.

I’ve long held this thin dream of becoming a speechwriter, a winsome wordsmith that polishes those gifted with influence and charisma. For me, mixing a recipe of words into a delicious repast is as fun as making sandcastles on a warm beach, Beach Boys’ harmonies and the salty scent of french fries in the air.

I love the music of words where a phrase or metaphor touches us inside, finding a responsive or reactionary soft spot that carries huge meaning and import. Each of us has our own lifetime of experience, a personal filter that makes us susceptible to universal notions.

Dream jobs exist inside all of us.

In addition to my speechwriting dream, I found one in a bartender’s apron these past two years. I’m on the lookout for more.

Actor, winemaker, undertaker, pilot, baker, bed & breakfast owner, chocolatier, doggie daycare owner, photographer, fashion designer, rock star, interior designer, screenwriter, sushi chef.  There are 4 or 5 fantasies in that list for me.

The list goes on and on and fits each of us in a different way.

The world will take an abrupt and profound turnabout this coming week as the Obama family lifts away in a helicopter to pursue their own future dreams. Feathers in the wind.

As the whirlybird rises, my fragile speechwriting dream will haul up stakes and be thrust into a dark closet like an unloved, unused treadmill or bowling ball. That’s OK.

It’s OK because there is no shortage of dreams and dream jobs that can invigorate and enthrall any of us.

Dreams… like pi, money, love, time, and human imagination are infinite … 

Oh, and Zombie movies, I’m pretty sure they’re infinite too.


Bake Me A Cake



For god’s sake let me turn off the Great British Bake Off.

It’s the darkest doldrum days of Canadian winter and I’ve been baking cakes this week.

It’s those damned U.K. crooked-teethed bakers in an emerald field‘s fault.

Welcome to my test kitchen.

Chocolate cakes. I’ve been baking chocolate cakes and internally ruminating about making cinnamon buns and hot cross buns. Warm, comforting scents waft in swirls, mixing lightly with tinges of pine smoke from the woodstove. Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell would stand proud.

Maybe my sugar craving is psychological lust in disguise… porn in a more socially acceptable guise. Maybe I’m a man whose mind lies in the erotic X-rated gutter looking for sexual connections to everything, I don’t know.

I know I love chocolate. I love chocolate cake. But I don’t need to eat chocolate cake.

What I need is to run more and bike more and swim more. That’s not a New Year’s Resolution. But it should be.

waitress pie.jpg

There was a movie a while back called WAITRESS, where Keri Russell made pies in a diner, lots of pies. She’d make a different pie every day – a pie that matched her mood and what was happening in her world… pies like :

BAD BABY PIE – Quiche with egg and brie cheese with a smoked ham centre… (made when she becomes pregnant by her abusive husband.)

MARSHMELLOW MERMAID PIE – From when she was in her mermaid stage. “Biblically good!

I HATE MY HUSBAND PIE – “You make it with bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel …”

One day, setting a piece of Strawberry Chocolate Oasis pie in front of Old Joe, her favourite customer (Andy Griffith), he oohs and ahhs in ecstasy at the first forkful, and she says, “It’s just a pie“.

Just a pie! It’s downright expert. A thing’a beauty … how each flavor opens itself, one by one, like a chapter in a book. First, the flavor of an exotic spice hits ya … Just a hint of it … and then you get flooded with chocolate, dark and bittersweet like an old love affair …

Just a pie. Just a chocolate cake. Not just just anything.

Yup Old Joe, it’s like a chapter in a book.

My cakes are filled with messages and meanings that go miles beyond the floury-sugary material ingredients blended together; cakes with memory fillings, creamy whipped childhood playgrounds and frosted wedding ceremonies and family-layered funeral gatherings.

Food – especially sweet food – is special in our lives. It’s like the weather. Good. Bad. Indifferent. We talk about it constantly.

Yup, Old Joe, it’s like a trip to an exotic spicy locale that invigorates and inspires you.

My cake tastes better when it travels too. It’s both literal and metaphorical.

Doesn’t any food you eat when you travel taste better than the same thing eaten at home?

A plain old havarti cheese sandwich on a crispy sourdough baguette gulped down at your kitchen table magically tastes so much better when sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome, or on a massive rock parapet overlooking Machu Picchu.

Food mingles with personalities and visual perspectives on the horizon like fine sparkling wine pairs with fresh fruit.

My cake will transport you down an elm tree-lined journey into your past and a meal you shared with your best childhood friend in your backyard.

Treasured Mom moments.


The power of cake.

Now that a new year has dawned, I think I’m drawn to making cakes because I’m celebrating the birth of a new seasonal effect, the lengthening of daylight. I’m looking outwards to the exciting creation of experiences, activities and new life stories.

But I’m also connecting with past wonders and the sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy memories of family dinners, weddings, funerals and celebrations.

Or maybe… just maybe… I truly am addicted to sugar.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.