The World Turned Upside Down

In 1781, when the British surrendered to the American rebels at Yorktown, they supposedly marched to the tune “The World Turned Upside Down,” which was no doubt the way they felt about their unanticipated situation. After twenty-six hours between takeoff from Indiana and landing nearly half a world away in India, we could identify.

Although we tried to anticipate as much as possible, the reality will always surprise one, with bafflement, boredom, and insomnia offset by the nervous thrill of the pleasantly unexpected (like the Indian couple at the Frankfurt airport who, as we stood in the long queue to board the flight to Chennai, noticed my silver hair and told us graciously that “The elderly may step forward”); the meeting of intriguing new friends (the header photo is from Sarah’s buddy teacher’s rooftop terrace overlooking the Arupadai Veedu Murugan Temple in our neighborhood) and the stumbles in manners and mores (as in dealing with our watchman when he rang our doorbell at 9am on Sunday to ask for 500 rupees to buy medicine); the enticing and rich new aromas and tastes; and, okay, a couple brief power outages and the first skirmish with Delhi Belly . . . .

The looong flights . . . extra legroom well worth the price.

The best element of the long flights was our linking up in Newark with a couple other AISC faculty on their way from the US, and then in Frankfurt, connecting with nearly a dozen teachers of the “AISC Faculty Class of 2017.” Here we began to scratch the surface of getting to know Sarah’s fellow teachers, all of whom come with unique and fascinating backgrounds that we can’t wait to explore. As with the woman who has worked closely with Jane Goodall (yes, THAT Jane Goodall) and with Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia; the young fellow who just graduated from college a month ago and will be working as an Associate Teacher; the single mom with a three month old baby; and many folks who have taught for years from Sophia to Paris, from Brunei to Doha to Beijing to Cairo and more. Best yet, a well-traveled male Trailing Spouse welcomed me to the fraternity and bestowed on me the more apt title: International Man of Leisure. Well, yeah! Anyway, I hope to bring you the details of these folks’ stories in their own words in future posts.

The pool at AISC–we can use it on off hours

But we’re finally starting to come up for air and settle into a bit of a tentative routine as Sarah continues her teacher preparation for the start of classes and I scout for more items to create a homelike feel in our spacious yet spartan flat. (Who knew how tough it would be to find table lamps and light bulbs?) It was also a delight to reconnect with so many of the faculty and staff we had met when we visited in 2016. During the first week, though, it was a wall to wall whirlwind as I got to take part with Sarah in the initial welcome orientation sessions including tours of the school’s impressive campus; understanding the AISC history, vision, and mission; coaching on international cultural traditions, manners, and expectations; followed by lavish dinners each night at a few of the leadership team’s lovely homes and the famous seafood buffet at the Spectra Restaurant in the Leela Palace.

Sarah with her jasmine wreath and new bindi

The AISC leadership team and all the support staff have been warm and welcoming, and the orientation has been well planned and executed, with great attention to every detail, including a ceremony recognizing the new faculty with a jasmine wreath and a bindi. Oh, and we made the first of two trips the FRRO to apply for our residency permits, without which we can’t open a bank account or buy our car . . . we hope to make the return trip to pick up the permits by the end of this week!

Ganesha in our building’s entry

We have, though, hired our housekeeper/cook and I went shopping with her to acquire all her cooking and cleaning supplies and our flat is now spotless–she even washed our clothes and installed our new energy saving dryer! She’ll be cooking our first meal soon. In the meantime, so far we’ve tried a range of cuisines including The French Loaf, Brew Room, Eden Vegetarian, and Cascades Chinese, all in our Besant Nagar neighborhood which has so many international restobars and cafes (oh, and we’ve been past the Royal Enfield store a few times . . . ) And we’re getting used to waking up to the crows squabbling obnoxiously at 5am (one sits right outside our front balcony and I’ve dubbed him Scaramucci) followed by the call to prayer from a couple rooftops away and exotic bird calls that take me back to the B&W Tarzan film jungle stereotypes of my childhood.

Our new energy saving dryer!

Finally, we’ve engaged a driver to start once we can complete that Byzantine chain of FRRO documentation and finalize the purchase of our car. BTW, we’re buying perhaps the awkward adolescent of cars, a Maruti Ertiga (I’d never heard of it either). But it meets all our needs for size and safety and price, so off we go. The school makes buying a snap, as they handle all the paperwork and negotiation and the dealers bring cars for you to inspect and to be ferried around the block (“No, sir, you cannot drive it”) and when they tell you this model in this color is “available,” that means in a few weeks . . . maybe.

Life on the other side of the world now begins in earnest!

Author: David Hassler

David M. Hassler was fortunate enough to have become a relatively rare male Trailing Spouse when his talented wife Sarah accepted a job teaching music in the elementary division of the American International School in Chennai, India. His role includes, first of all, serving as her everything wallah, but also allows him time for exploring, discovering, and sharing new places, new faces, and new tastes around Chennai, throughout south India, and beyond. David M. Hassler is a long-time member of the Indiana Writers Center Faculty and holds an MFA from Spalding University. His work has been published in Maize and the Santa Fe Writers' Project. He served as a Student Editor for The Louisville Review and as Technical Editor for Writing Fiction for Dummies. He is currently Managing Editor for Flying Island, an online literary journal. He is co-author of Muse: An Ekphrastic Trio, and Warp, a Speculative Trio, and future projects include A Distant Polyphony, a collection of linked stories about music and love, memories and loss; And on the Eighth Day, A Tale of the Last Time Traveler, a riff on classic Sci Fi; and To Strike a Single Hour, a Civil War novel that seeks the truth in one of P T Barnum's creations. He is a founding partner in Boulevard Press.

16 thoughts on “The World Turned Upside Down

  1. Thank you, David, for this great start to my morning. I loved every word. My name will not be familiar to you since I retired from CT in ’01 but I will follow this will eagerness & excitement!!

  2. Enjoyed reading about your current adventures in life. Had the desire to “pop on over” and knock on your front door to experience the spirit of India with you. Can’t wait to come and visit. Joe is even excited about coming!!!! Keep writing. I’m living vicariously through you and Sarah.

  3. I’m living this adventure thru your so well written posts, David. Please keep sharing with te world! I already miss you both but so excited for you!
    Love,

  4. David, great to read your post, really excited for you and Sarah. Very much fun to follow your journey. Be well!

  5. “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

    It begins!

    : )

    Love to you and Sarah!

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